The beauty of life is often captured best in ambiguity but said capturing is undoubtedly the hard part. Art, especially cinematic art, likes to attempt to do so. Unfortunately, it is not always successful, though just about anything that attempts to depict the esoteric parts of life usually deserves at least a little respect.
Such is the case with Linoleum, a film that attempts to portray the struggles of potential, time, love, memory, and the universe. In an hour and forty-two minutes, Cameron (Jim Gaffigan) is a scientist with a struggling children’s television show. His marriage is falling apart, and his children can’t stand him or seem to ignore him completely. One day, Cameron witnessed what appeared to be a car falling from the sky. Cameron calls the police and tells his family about the experience over dinner. His wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn) and his daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) don’t believe him.
Later, Cameron returns home to find his home has been condemned due to the crash landing of what appears to be a Russian satellite. With the encouragement of his teenage neighbor, Cameron decides to build a rocket from the parts in one last attempt to prove to the world that he’s worth something. The film also features subplots in which Nora attempts to get to know the teenage neighbor Marc (Gabriel Rush), and Erin gets a promotion that will require her to move away.
Linoleum has a homey feel to it. It’s relatively brightly lit, and the production design leaves the viewer nostalgic for the suburban version of the 70s and 80s. Even the plot feels familiar and welcoming, at least at first. However, throughout its course, the story seems to both drag and wind, only to lead to what appear to be dead ends. The end features a confusing but somewhat exciting twist ending. The last thirty minutes attempt to philosophize about the meaning of life, and the wonder of our life on earth, which works with the space and science themes. However, the film is too eager to wax poetic rather than attempt to engage with life’s more profound questions.
Linoleum is confusing, and it could have been heartwarming. Director Colin West does an excellent job of establishing relationships, even if some are cliched. However, the connecting dots and plot twists eventually revealed are lackluster and don’t make sense. West also introduces a piece of information at the film’s end that is a hard-hitter regarding what it means for the characters but doesn’t make sense in practice. The fact that the cast features Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn accurately summarizes its part. Seehorn is a competent actress, but her talent is stifled in the love interest/working mother role. The part is not two-dimensional at best but has the beginnings of potential had the writer not been determined to end the film in a confusing haze.
It’s necessary for art at large to tackle big ideas. This is how good ideas spread. To some extent, we’d all like to be the person responsible for that spread of information. However, not everything must explore life’s great qualms to be significant enough to connect with an audience. If Linoleum has any weakness, it overestimates its subject matter instead of just keeping it simple. Linoleum has the makings of a good film, but it doesn’t quite get there. It’s not a film without heart, and it’s not a film without talent in all areas, but the parts don’t quite get together. In the film as it is in life, it’s challenging to determine precisely what makes it all work. We can only ever speculate.