SXSW 2022: Linoleum – To The Stars

Convergence. Sometimes, it all comes together. Anomalous and strange, otherworldly and inexplicable, something that can’t quite be described yet is ultimately revelatory and life changing, these moments that strike just when we need them to put it all in perspective, just for an instant. It’s remarkably easy to live a life filled with regret, constantly calling into question every decision you’ve ever made, cursing the sky above and wondering why it didn’t quite work out the way you expected. To a degree, it’s simply the human condition, to be hopelessly unable to look at what’s in front of you, so lost in both the past you perceive to have failed at and the future you never had that the present slowly slips away before your eyes. Relationships erode, tensions become unbearable, and it all just feels unfair. Crushed beneath the weight of the life you built. You tell yourself you’ve done it all right, that your passion should be enough to carry you, that maybe one day the stagnation will end and the life you pictured will become a reality.

More often than not, that’s not quite how it works, a cold reality that Cameron (Jim Gaffigan) must slowly reconcile with. Once a young scientist with dreams of becoming an astronaut, he is now settled down with his wife Erin (Rhea Sheehorn), filling a role as a quasi-Bill Nye hosting a science television program for children that conveniently airs in the middle of the night. He hopes, at least, to get his show pushed to a more accessible slot, but that dream is quickly stolen from him as renowned scientist Kent Armstrong (also played by Jim Gaffigan) moves to town and is quickly granted the slot for his own show. Struggling with a strained relationship with his wife and his daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon), his father’s mental state rapidly declining, and once again rejected by NASA for the astronaut program, this final injustice takes its toll on Cameron, utterly helpless and far from where he once hoped to be.

Despite this series of frustrations put upon Cameron, it all slowly seems to become clearer, this ineffable and spiritual notion that maybe, sometimes, it’s all meant to be. Parallel to Cameron’s personal frustrations, an Apollo rocket module falls out of orbit and into his backyard, and while the bureaucrats take their time deciding what to do with it, Cameron takes matters into his own hands, finally in control of a part of his destiny, determined to restore this rocket to its former glory and send it to the stars. While Kent, seemingly the successful mirror image of Cameron, continues to overshadow him at work, Cameron befriends his son Marc (Gabriel Rush), who has taken an interest in both the rocket and in Nora. Here it begins to become apparent what Linoleum is aiming for, this sort of quirky cosmic coincidence that holds a mirror up to one’s life, illuminating the fact that you’ve begun to lose yourself at the hands of your complicated obsession with perceived past failures. The parallels abound as Kent and Cameron’s lives play out across the street from one another, and Cameron begins to find that success notably doesn’t equate to happiness, and that the simple things are all we need, as he slowly begins to loosen his grip on the past and focus on what’s in front of him, pursuing passion without pretense.

An admirable enough pursuit for director Colin West to tackle such persistent follies of human existence, to illuminate quiet dysfunction and the personal erosion that often comes with age. Yet Linoleum stands apart from the simplicity of these notions, a genuine endeavor of the slight and the minute, the little things outside of these grander concepts of existential sorrow that make us human, all packaged within a delightful piece of science fiction that never puts the stakes higher than they should be while still managing to make the plight of a quiet suburban dad feel as critical as anything. Eventually, the once unwavering road that kept Kent and Cameron at a comfortable arm’s length of peculiar coincidence and distant parallels begins to fade, and it all coalesces in a magnificent third act that transforms the peaceful suburbs into an explosive cosmic wonder, an infinite möbius strip of fascination and intrigue, revealing complexity that recontextualizes all that came before. A wonderful film through and through, an ode to the stars above and the hearts within, a gentle reminder to not let the extrinsic stand in the way of love and passion. It’s all right in front of us, and it always will be.

7/10

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Film on the brain and neon in my veins.

Film critic, rad dude, and enthusiast of all things.

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