Anesthetized grievers make for a bummed out viewing experience in this drama from first-timer Reed Morano.

5 /10

Reed Morano, a successful cinematographer, takes her first shot at directing with Meadowland. And it may be because she’s so cinematically inclined, or perhaps she has a dark side the public is getting a taste of here, but she’s chosen some truly heavy material from Chris Rossi (also his first) to kickstart her directorial career. Granted, drama makes for plenty of opportunity to play with the camera, and she certainly does, providing dreamy, close-up, mood all over the place. And it may be because she usually only has control of the camerawork of a film that she felt so inclined to rev up the other sensory experiences of the film to maximum intensity.

The film is about Sarah and Phil (Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson) who, at the film’s outset, are struck the heavy blow of having their only son kidnapped. Flash forward a year and Phil is back at work as a cop, dealing with his grief with the occasional support group meeting and lunches with a friend who lost his daughter (John Leguizamo). Sarah, on the other hand, stays fairly numb with the help of lithium, barely passing for a teacher at the grade school she teaches at. Clearly these two have chosen the grieve alone path, Sarah often wandering around Times Square late at night, not necessarily searching so much as distracting herself, and Phil parking outside the gas station where their son disappeared as though he may wander back in the dead of night.

The detective on their case presents some new evidence that suggests what neither, though Sarah especially, want to hear. In her own misguided attempt to avoid reality she goes to cringe-worthy extremes leading to a belligerent and uncomfortable end. Grief manifests differently for everyone, especially in the circumstance of a cold case where the absence of concrete evidence doesn’t allow for proper grief, but Sarah’s self-destruction is especially difficult to watch. Morano also makes it quite hard to listen to. The music and sound design of the film are pumped up so high at parts it hurts. What’s meant to be a distraction tactic for the characters is just plain wearisome for the viewer.

Calling the film a bummer is an understatement. Wilde is convincingly inconsolable—and a bit crazy—in what is clearly meant to be a showcase of her talent, but in the hands of Morano, we’re rather hit in the head with it repeatedly. Wilson is of course the easier to sympathize with, those trademark Wilson puppy dog eyes playing to his advantage, but Rossi could have written Phil with more backbone to counter Sarah’s intensity better. As is, the two don’t have much in the way of chemistry, or even a believable animosity befitting their situation. They are more like two characters sharing the same story by chance.

Rossi wrote a script exploring the most gruesome depths of repressed grief, Morano certainly pulled it out of the actors and added further intensity with her blurry focus and pore-revealing intimacy in almost every scene, throw in the ear-assault and too-serious actions of the characters and it stops being insightful and starts being a bit scary. The film does a full stop at the very end, attempting to bring the mood back up with a slipshod scene that feels so much like a therapy session it’s laughable. Sorry Morano, you can’t assail viewers for 90 minutes and not expect them to be numb by the end to any ploy at pulling at heartstrings. Like Rossi’s characters, we can’t help but follow their lead and remain neatly anesthetized.

Originally published as part of our 2015 Tribeca Film Festival coverage.

Meadowland Movie review

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