Film Review: Meadowland (★★★½)


One of our few female Cinematographers Reed Morano steps behind the camera in a different way to make her directorial debut on “Meadowland,” written by Chris Rossi in his screenwriting debut.  Starring Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson, the film tells the story of Sarah and Phil, a couple who suffer an unimaginable loss and deal with the grief, loss, and hope in two completely different ways.  Phil’s own moral compass is challenged while Sarah begins to deteriorate, falling deeper into herself and losing all hopes of coming back.  “Meadowland” is a methodical and at times very compelling film that presents an intimate portrait of grief and hopelessness.

Reed Morano hawks back to similar feels of films like “Shame,” capturing a long shot within a New York street or “Half Nelson,” deconstructing the mind of a struggling educator with a student in need of their own guidance.  Morano frames the film spectacularly, as you could expect no less from the woman who shot “Kill Your Darlings” and “Frozen River.”  She appeals to our sensibilities as humans, and puts forth authentic reactions and behaviors of two human beings that can’t imagine a world that their presently abound.  That’s also thanks to the palpable tension and drama set by scribe Rossi.  These are two of the strongest debuts by a writer and director team seen in quite some time.

Challenging Jessica Biel (“Bleeding Heart“) as our Hollywood hot girl taking on an indie film and knocking it out of the park at Tribeca, Olivia Wilde is electrifying.  Standing out in her own way in films like “Her” and “Rush,” Wilde finds her niche, accurately portraying a mother on the verge of breaking down but desperately searching for something to keep her afloat.  Wilde delivers her finest acting performance of her career yet and is simply astonishing.  There’s so much that Wilde reveals in subtle moments of silence, whether its watching “Wheel of Fortune,” or observing a boy struggling to make friends, she keeps things bubbled to the brim without spilling over.  A tremendous and extraordinary actress has emerged.

In one of his most serious and heartbreaking roles, Luke Wilson surprises as the effective Paul.  He internalizes much of the grief that lives within his veins and in certain moments, unleashes them but not in the stereotypical bombastic manner in which you’d expect.  It’s a real and intelligent portrayal, devoid of happy endings and clichéd heroism.

John Leguizamo is taking on an indie market again and its fantastic to see.  Building even more excitement for a career post-Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss is superb in a brief role that should have been expanded beyond what was given.  Returning to his roots, Giovanni Ribisi excelled in smaller films until Seth MacFarlane got his claws on him for TV and “Ted” (which admittedly he’s hilarious in).  As Tim, Paul’s drug-recovering brother, Ribisi begins to revive the talents that made him so amazing in his early years of his career.   In smaller roles, Mark Feuerstein, Merritt Wever, and Juno Temple all get their moment.

Meadowland” is a fascinating piece, sometimes subtle in the way it presents its material, other times bombastic all leading to a finale that speaks multiple volumes about our own innocence.  It’s a film that will hopefully find a home with someone caring enough to nurture it into the right audiences.

Meadowland” currently has no distribution.