I get “Donnie Darko” vibes watching the engrossing sci-fi drama “Linoleum” written and directed by Colin West starring comedian Jim Gaffigan as a children’s television show host who once dreamed of being an astronaut. These days he’s just a space cadet caught in a surreal world where cars and rockets drop out of the sky just as a younger and better-looking version of himself shows up to threaten his job. It’s fascinating to watch, maybe a tad frustrating, but it comes together beautifully in the final act.
Cameron Edwin (Gaffigan) is a scientist who attended Cornell in the hope of becoming an astronaut. Life had other plans. He ended up hosting a Saturday morning kids’ show (think Bill Nye the Science Guy) except the television network will only air the program at midnight when most kids are asleep. At one time Cameron’s wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn of “Better Call Saul”) cohosted the show but she bailed after realizing it was going nowhere, like her marriage, which is why she is filing for divorce. “I’m the only one who’s even remotely rational anymore!” she exclaims in frustration.
One day while checking the mail, Cameron is startled by a red sportscar that falls out of the sky, crashing just a few feet away from where he’s standing. The expired driver of the vehicle is a man who looks like a younger version of himself. That evening Cameron tells his wife and teenage daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) the story of what happened, and they look unfazed, “That’s a really crazy story Cam” responds Nora with no emotion.
Things get stranger at work when Cameron’s boss introduces him to the new guy that’s just been hired to replace Cameron as host of the tv show, Kent Armstrong (also Gaffigan). “I can’t believe, you crashed your car yesterday?” asks Cameron as he notices that Kent looks exactly like the guy who was in the red car that fell out of the sky. “I’m afraid I have no idea what you’re talking about” he responds as Cameron looks confused. That makes two of us.
Wouldn’t you know it? Kent and his teenage son Marc (Gabriel Rush) move in across the street from Cameron and his family causing Nora to take notice of the young man who will soon be attending the same high school. The two become good friends, and while it may seem like a budding relationship to the folks, Nora refrains that she’s a lesbian and doesn’t think of Marc in that way. We’ll see.
Like the Richard Kelly film “Donnie Darko” whose tone and layers of surrealism are mirrored in West’s sci-fi drama, items falling out of the sky are a common occurrence. In “Darko” a jet engine crashes into the family home. In “Linoleum” it’s part of an old space rocket that just misses the house to crash in the backyard. Cameron decides to use the wreckage to build his own rocket ship to launch himself into space thus fulfilling his dream of becoming an astronaut. He enlists the help of his retired father Mac (Roger Hendricks Simon), a former NASA scientist who resides in a nursing home due to dementia.
Inspired by his grandparents, especially his grandfather who suffered from dementia before passing away five years ago, West thought about their relationship which spanned six decades, and how they met in high school. It was the starting point of a story that was also inspired by Charlie Kaufman’s films and Kelly’s “Darko.” Despite the “Twilight Zone” atmosphere, “Linoleum” is above all, a love story that comes together beautifully in the final act after keeping the audience in the dark for the majority of its 98-minute running time.
Gaffigan is primarily known for his comedy, but “Linoleum” is not his first rodeo when it comes to dramatic roles. He’s been turning out some very good performances over the years. Ed Wu’s cinematography is gorgeous and perhaps the VIP behind the scenes is production designer Mollie Wartelle who combines over 40 years of fashions, technology, and aesthetics to establish a “timeless” timeline that is so subtle, it may not hit you until after viewing the film.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing at the Texas Theatre and AMC Grapevine Mills 24