Credit must be given to director Reed Morano with her feature film debut Meadowland – she’s taken incredibly dark and troubling material and turned it into an inherently compelling, extremely raw, and often times painful cinematic experience, one that’s wholly engrossing, but that will test the strength of most viewers. Given that the film is essentially a study of hopeless denial and deeply repressed anger during the aftermath of a child’s disappearance, this demanding (and draining) piece of work isn’t going to be for everyone. But for those of us interested in thought provoking, intensely modulated dramas that ask questions about ourselves as individuals, then this will be the perfect antidote to whatever CGI laden blockbuster is currently littering moving screens. Morano, an accomplished cinematographer on such films as The Skeleton Twins, Frozen River, and Kill Your Darlings, gets in close to her characters with her intimate cinematography, which is almost all hand-held, yet shot in 2.35:1 widescreen with an emphasis on off-kilter angles, extreme close-ups, and side of the head framing that evokes the introspective beats of a Michael Mann film.
Centering on a husband and wife (an excellent Luke Wilson playing a NYC cop and a never better Olivia Wilde as an inner city teacher) exactly one year after their son was abducted at a gas station, the film sticks very close to its two central performers, allowing peripheral characters to shake up the proceedings; the estimable supporting cast includes a recently busy Kevin Corrigan (funny and effective in this year’s romantic dramedy Results), Giovanni Ribisi (love seeing him!), John Leguizamo (always solid and edgy), Elisabeth Moss (quick but effective), and Juno Temple (always spunky and sexy). But the film belongs to Wilde and Wilson, who both cut all-too-convincing portraits of parents pushed to their emotional edge, with Wilde going especially deep all throughout this nervy, focused story of loss and potential acceptance. The final moments, from a directorial standpoint, are very bold, as it’s clear that Morano wants the audience to think for themselves and realistically accept the facts that have been presented for us.
There’s nothing “easy” about Meadowland, and in that sense, this film will likely challenge those who are looking for simple, digestible storytelling, which this is anything but. Meadowland aims to explore the awkward moments between friends and family members after a traumatic incident; nobody knows quite what to say, what the boundaries are in any given situation, or how the directly affected individuals are truly feeling inside. The thoughtful script by Chris Rossi might rely on some familiar storytelling tropes (support groups, personally-inflicted pain, children with learning disabilities) but it all feels organic to the environment and sadly, all too believable, considering that these are real struggles that people face every day. Not a film for the overly sensitive or for those who need their art spelled out for them, Morano has crafted a hard-hitting piece of cinema that has emotional resonance as well as arresting visual style. Available on Itunes and screening in limited release in theaters.