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Linoleum

Year: 2022
Production Co: Brain Scratch Productions
Director: Colin West
Writer: Colin West
Cast: Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, Gabriel Rush

It's a heartfelt but weird sci-fi dramedy that goes in some very unexpected directions, so there's a lot to love. But whether it goes somewhere that properly ends the story or it just feels like writer/director Colin West was more interested in fantastical elements than a coherent narrative (or just ran out of ideas) will be very personal to you.

America's cleanest comedian, Jim Gaffigan, plays Cameron, a suburban shlub who's going through a pretty amicable divorce from his wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn, in the first role we've seen her in since her commanding turn in Better Call Saul), loves his son and harbours a long-held love of space travel and astronomy.

But the discontent with his life is made mostly evident from the kids science TV show he and Erin hosted that Cameron can't seem to let go of, watching old episodes on VHS in the small hours and seeming to pine for former glory – or at least a time when life held more promise.

Biking home from work one day, the inciting incident is when a bright red convertible promptly falls from the sky, crashing to the road and spilling out an injured occupant that looks scarily like Cameron himself.

The man turns out to be the a kind of younger, more dynamic version of Cameron who ends up taking his spot at the network when they cancel his show, and who's later revealed to be a brutal authoritarian to his son Marc (Gabriel Rush).

As it happens, Cameron and Erin's snarky teen daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) strikes up a friendship with the stoic, closed-in Marc, starting to find herself away from the influence of her parents and their crumbling relationship.

Later on, a piece of a falling satellite then crashes into the backyard of the family home and they're all homeless, living in a motel while the authorities have the house cordoned off to investigate the wreckage.

But it sparks something in Cameron, who breaks back into the property, digs up and salvages the crashed satellite and sets about building his own rocket in the garage, trying to fulfil his oldest dream of doing something extraordinary and living his fullest life while everything around him is disappearing – from his marriage to his job.

There's also a grey haired old lady standing nearby more than once no matter where he is, watching him. He visits an old man in a home who seems to be senile, apparently his aged father, using the older man as a sounding board to vent his own disappointments. There's the repeated motif of a mobius strip.

But before long it's apparent the movie is more interested in amassing a collection of allusions and ideas than telling you a straight story. There's a lot about characters overlapping and mirroring each other, and the final ten minute reveal does so in a quite literal sense, but even that might be a concession to audiences who've lost track by that point to wrap things up somewhat neatly.

What makes it worth watching is that, in all those ideas about lives reflecting and influencing each other and people being more connected than they imagined across time, there's a lot of well-written and acted emotional depth about wondering if you're too old to chase your dreams, wondering what will happen to you if you don't, and how crazy you have to be to try.

Gaffigan and Seehorn in particular are great, Seehorn bringing the same fierce, take-no-prisoners intelligence she bought to Kim Wexler. The teen cast are less impactful, but that's only because you find yourself wondering for a long time exactly what they have to do with the rest of the proceedings.

But how much you like it overall will depend on your taste for films as puzzles about themselves rather than establishing what everything means.

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