Linoleum is certainly something of a curiosity as it strives to use a simple premise to explore, however subtly, themes of loss, identity and the fulfillment of the dream of a suburban husband and father who finds a space-age satellite falling from the sky and into his backyard fueling his lost ambition to become an astronaut and build a homemade rocket to achieve it.
It also offers a chance for the comedian Jim Gaffiganquickly becoming a prince, if not a king, of the Indies to play a double role and show a little more range than he normally has in past films like another prequel SXSW Entrance, Be frank. This one had its world premiere at SXSW tonight in the narrative competition and is like many other films here awaiting acquisition, most likely a small distributor at best with VOD plans, or even an Amazon that has showed a propensity for this kind of science fiction. fi hybrid in the past.
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Gaffigan is Cameron Edwin, your average suburban dad, stuck in nowhere as the host of a local PBS-style science TV show, kind of a super low budget Bill Nye the science guy. Average is how you might describe this guy, married to his wife Erin (the always wonderful Rhea Seehorn of You better call Saul), and father of Nora (Katelyn Nacon). We’re introduced to them from the start, but after the slight exposition, monumental things are about to happen to Cameron when an ancient satellite from the space race era falls into his lap, makes it his backyard and he sees it as a sign, one that instantly brings him back to his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut. He’s well past that now, but with his own scientific knowledge, which he dutifully dispenses on local television, he has the bright idea of building a rocket out of these old parts and blasting off into space. Or so it seems. It’s not that easy, and family, friends and doctors wonder what’s happening to Cameron as his Don Quixote-like quest looks more and more like a guy bending over windmills. Then weird stuff really come. A mysterious doppelganger named Kent Armstrong (also Gaffigan) moves in next door and is clearly not the friendly neighbor type, but rather a guy with sinister ideas. Another sign that we may be entering the twilight zone is when a sports car falls from the sky and crashes into the street. And who is this teenager (Gabriel Rush) who enters her life?
Writer-director Colin West says he was inspired by his own grandfather’s sense of loss from his wife of 60 years as he slipped into dementia. It was apparently a springboard, but it’s not that story, but it might give you a hint that West is interested in much more than a middle-aged man building a rocket in his garage. Nor is it Back to the future although it’s not entirely clear what time it takes place, and that would be on purpose. West is more interested in serving up an emotional adventure of the mind than a CGI-based sci-fi journey he couldn’t do on this film’s low budget anyway. It’s best not to reveal the twists in store, but it all comes together in the end, and West is a talented enough filmmaker to do what he set out to do and bring it home.
I love the specials and Gaffigan’s tongue-in-cheek comments about family life on the CBS Sunday Morning News, and he’s one of those comics who is a very capable actor, as demonstrated once again here. In fact, the entire cast, which also includes brief moments with Tony Shalhoub, Michael Ian Black and other notables, is fine. To me Linoleum is a pleasant enough ride, if a little less than memorable, that doesn’t quite take off like you might hope. For Gaffigan fans, that should be enough. The producers are Chad Simpson, Chadd Harbold and Dennis Masel. Storm City Films was the production company and financier.
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