In Reed Morano’s directorial debut, Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson try to cope with the grief of losing their son.
Meadowland, the story of how two parents, schoolteacher Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and policeman Phil (Luke Wilson), cope a year after their son’s disappearance, is powerful in its simplicity. The film is not action-driven, it is more of a study on grief; how it overtakes those experiencing it, how it manifests in different people, what emotional baggage it carries. It’s a real testament to the clear, strong vision of established cinematographer and first time director Reed Morano to craft such a compelling film. Her reliance on high quality, subtle acting, enhanced by her gorgeous cinematography and expert score, draws in the audience immediately and lets them unearth the complex layers of emotion that grief creates.
Meadowland wastes no time, as the first scene is the one in which their son, Jesse, disappears at a gas station. Sarah and Phil’s worry and confusion quickly escalates to panic as they run around, helplessly calling out for Jesse. We next see them a year following the disappearance, and the grief has clearly taken a toll on their relationship, driving them further away from each other. In fact, the two rarely interact and speak to each other on screen, and if they do, it’s strained and disconnected, never saying what they want to say. Sarah has become numb, shutting down emotionally and suppressing her grief in an effort to deal with it. She escapes only through late night walks through Times Square in a grungy yellow hooded sweatshirt. These scenes are beautifully captured, showing only the back of Sarah’s hood against the backdrop of Times Square, yet communicating volumes about her isolation and hopelessness to the audience.
Sarah takes up an interest in two students at her school. One is a young girl, Alma, with academic potential but lacking drive–she doesn’t do her homework and listens to music during class, later revealed that she listens to music from her deployed brother’s iPod. The other is Adam, a young boy with Asperger’s who is enraptured by elephants and has neglectful, borderline abusive foster parents. She mentally adopts these children as a substitute for her own, deciding to cut herself after she notices marks on Alma’s arm, even going as far as to follow Adam’s foster parents in her car. It eventually culminates in picking Adam up from school in his family car after impulsively sleeping with his foster dad and promising him a trip to Africa so he can see his beloved elephants. Wilde engages the audience immediately, exploring a breadth of emotion simply and truthfully as Sarah. Her performance is powerful and raw in its effortlessness, more often than not, communicating Sarah’s hidden rage, confusion, denial, depression, and despair without a word of dialogue.
While Sarah turns her grief inward and hurts herself, Phil focuses it outwards and hurts others. Phil copes with his all-consuming grief through a support group for people who have lost a loved one. He befriends a group member, Pete (John Leguizamo), whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver, but pushes him away when he gives Pete the drunk driver’s home address in an attempt to ease Pete’s pain by inviting him to release his rage onto the man that caused it all. Pete leaves out of disgust and Phil is left alone. Phil’s rage, hidden beneath his emotional numbness, creeps to the surface again when his friend tells him that his wife is four months pregnant with a baby boy. Phil lashes out, accusing his friend of being disloyal and thinking of him as a bad luck charm, which leaves him alone yet again as his friend walks out on him at a bar. Phil also tries to include Sarah in the police hunt for Jesse, but she refuses to be a part of it, keeping Phil in isolation. Wilson’s Phil is understated and dynamic, trying so desperately to connect with anyone but further isolates himself in the process.
Morano’s intimate cinematography and clear direction let the visuals guide the narrative, allowing the audience to connect emotionally to main characters and explore their psyches and connect the dots of the story for themselves. Her clear trust of the story’s power is felt by the audience, setting Meadowland apart.
Meadowland opens in theaters this Friday, October 16th. The trailer can be found here.
We screened the film at the New York premiere, which was presented by Forevermark.