Film reviews and more since 2009

Linoleum (2023) review

Dir. Colin West

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★½

Colin West’s Linoleum revolves around Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of a local children’s science show. The public access program airs at midnight, assuring no members of its target audience are even watching. As a result, Cameron is the Bill Nye who never made it, and as a result, he’s stuck in a malaise that effects everything from his relationship to his teenage daughter, Nora (Katelyn Nacon) to his marriage to Erin (Rhea Seehorn).

At an early point in the film, Cameron tells Nora that there are two kinds of people on this planet: astronauts and astronomers. One group spends time swimming with the stars; the other merely gazes at them. With his dream of swimming ostensibly having passed him by, Cameron has become disillusioned with his place in the world, so much so that him dropping his application to NASA in a mailbox at one point feels like an admission of defeat as opposed to him taking an actual shot in life.

But after dropping that application off, something odd happens. A sports car literally falls from the sky, and the body of a real astronaut falls out of it. The man kind of looks like Cameron, as does his neighbor, Kent (also played by Gaffigan). Kent looks and operates like a more refined, put-together version of Cameron, and his son, Marc (Gabriel Rush), starts spending time with Nora, all while Erin secretly plots her divorce.

Things get weirder when a literal rocket falls from the sky. The rocket, however, is just the motivation Cameron needs. He becomes obsessively driven by the prospect of getting the rocket to launch, so much so that it becomes the elixir to his midlife crisis. Even when the family’s house is condemned in another strange turn of events, he cuts the caution tape and begins working on his pet project.

West’s breakout feature suggests he’s on a promising trajectory of making films with relatable premises and contemplative stories. What sometimes comes with this territory is a bit of insufficient juggling, and in the case of Linoleum, its buildup sometimes feels as if the film has become stagnant; at worse, unengaging. This is one of those films where you just kind of have to go with the idea of a hot rod plunging from the sky, or the introduction of the cosmos as an adjacent theme to a man’s midlife crisis. Between West’s assured directing, Ed Wu’s cinematography (heavy on peach, chartreuse, and other light-colored hues), and a slew of capable performances, you’d be right to be patient with this one.

Jim Gaffigan in particular proves he can do drama, deftly handling two dichotomous roles.

Linoleum is a case of an average movie bolstered by an unforeseeable twist. Even if it might not hold up to intense scrutiny, it’s ambitious and arresting. At 101 minutes, Linoleum isn’t a long movie, but feels lengthier than it is, mainly due to its low-key tone and glacial pacing. Some might check out by the time they’re gobsmacked by an impossible-to-predict climax, while others might lean forward and rush to the internet. Hopefully West isn’t courted by Marvel, DC, or another billion-dollar franchise looking to send him to the cosmos for a greater purpose (aka ROI), for I think his future remains here on Earth, intertwining concepts related to what’s out there with other human themes relatable to the audience.

NOTE: Linoleum is now playing in select theaters.

Starring: Jim Gaffigan, Rhea Seehorn, Katelyn Nacon, Gabriel Rush, Michael Ian Black, and Tony Shaloub. Directed by: Colin West.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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