I must have missed the bit where they explained why this strange, Shyamalan-on-a-budget movie is called Linoleum. But Linoleum it is. “A floor covering made from… linseed oil, pine resin, ground cork dust…” etc etc. Says Wikipedia. No idea.
But then I’m not the sort of movie watcher who second-guesses. I like the film-maker to reveal what they’re going to reveal at the time they want to reveal it. If I get there first… problems. Otherwise, you do you and I’ll sit back and watch.
So, obviously there is a reveal. A grand one. Which casts everything you’ve been watching in a new light, explains it all, also helps explain some of the odd under-explained moments in a film which seems at first to be about a low-grade TV host having a midlife crisis.
The incredibly likeable Jim Gaffigan plays the guy, Cameron, a presenter of TV science shows for kids who makes up in enthusiasm what the show lacks in budget and is hoping one day to get a Saturday morning slot, as once promised, rather than going out at midnight, as the show does currently.
Wife Erin (Better Call Saul’s formidably great Rhea Seehorn) plays his wife. She used to be his co-presenter but is now on the verge of divorcing him. Daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) is a self-declared lesbian struggling slightly to be accepted for who she really is. Though who you really are is one of this interesting film’s interesting concerns .
Plotwise, so far, so normal, in other words. Until one day, cycling home from work in his tweed jacket with the leather elbows, Cameron witnesses a car falling out of the sky in front of him. The guy inside it looks vaguely familiar, like a younger, better-looking version of himself, Cameron thinks.
The next day a rocket drops out of space, right into Cameron’s back yard. Russian, say the cops. Not so, thinks Cameron, once he get a look at it. And since he once harboured ambitions to be an astronaut, he knows a bit about this stuff. A fact confirmed by his old rocket-engineer buddy (Roger Hendricks Simon), who generally lives in a twilit world of dementia but snaps halfway back into life when Cameron gives him this problem to wrap his grey cells around.
A story of redemption through a purposeful engagement with the world? Nah. Well, maybe, a bit. As Cameron decides to rebuild the rocket and go into space himself – I know – the joy of Linoleum is watching it mess about with story ideas, as if trying to find the part that’ll fit.
In a fizzy, semi-cartoony colour palette, writer/director Colin West repurposes the DIY vibe from director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly’s Safety Not Guaranteed, throws in a bit of the valiant “one man’s crazed vision” stuff from Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even a bit of the looping Moebius-strip logic of Kubrick’s end sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, whizzes them all together and decorates with the usual “follow your dream” mantra adding in a sly “no matter how fucking mad it is” all of West’s own.
What to say? There is spookiness and darkness in here, and there are issues of a daddy-related sort, as Cameron starts to… being very delicate here… appreciate his own mortality, while his daughter gets to know new-guy-in-town Marc and Erin prepares to fly the coop and take a job in astrophysics. All that with a mad junkyard of reclaimed sci-fi bits and bobs dumped on top.
Gaffigan is empathy itself, effortlessly believeable as the sort of guy who might try and keep a six-year-old mind engaged as his TV scientist explains gravity, or air pressure. The film is of a piece with the performance – just like the kids shows Cameron presents, it uses distraction and entertainment to address weightier topics.
Can Cameron actually build a space ship and go into space? It’s unlikely. Should he try? There you go. And the joy of the film is that you can ignore all the metaphorical, allegorical angle space-the-final-frontier stuff entirely and just watch Linoleum as a big kids adventure made with cardboard and string.
Linoleum – Watch it/buy it at Amazon
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© Steve Morrissey 2023