A Life Worth Living – Linoleum (2023)

I don’t know if I am finally ahead of the curve or just so far behind it that I can’t see the top anymore, but either way, I am finally in a position to write about a movie I loved from the end of February. I am a little sad that I am only getting around to it just now, but better late than never.

I went into this one looking for and expecting a light-hearted sci-fi comedy but I got much more than I bargained for. Linoleum is a meditative reflection on regret, love, ambition, and how everything intertwines in life. It caught me completely off guard in the end and absolutely floored me in a puddle of tears (good tears) by the last 20 minutes.

When a car falls from the sky, the host of a public access kids’ science show has his world turned upside down when the driver turns out to be his doppelganger. Essentially forced out of his job by the new, more-qualified double, Cameron pushes himself and tries to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut by building a rocket with remnants of a spaceship that crashed in his backyard. Maybe that’s a lot of things falling to earth in one neighborhood, but you’ll pick up the pieces as you go.

I’m typically in or out on a movie based on ideas, but a big part of the appeal of this film was not just renowned comedian Jim Gaffigan stepping into a dramatic turn and the fact that he was the lead and tackling dual roles in the process. He was quite good in this role and while he may not be fully fledged as a dramatic leading man yet, the movie itself doesn’t require that of him. I don’t mean to disparage his performance at all but rather to highlight the strengths of both his casting and the creative choices made by writer/director Colin West.

Gaffigan has had a long, well-known, and successful career as both a stand-up comedian and comedic actor, so there is a certain amount of expectation that goes along with that. The film is even listed, in part, as a comedy. However, it’s really more about the characters and the situations that provide the humor rather than punchlines delivered to elicit a desired response. That’s an important distinction to make because it takes advantage of Gaffigan’s reputation and skill in a way that gives the film a much lighter tone than we may have gotten with a different actor.

Even with its fairly brisk hour and 41-minute runtime, West’s story for this was something of a slow burn. He tackles some heavier themes like parental abuse, self-esteem, and existential purpose, but he balances that out with a budding coming-of-age romance and a quirky garage science show. So, I had some trouble pinning down exactly what the tone was going for but it kept off-balance just enough for the payoff to come in a melt me in my seat. Thankfully for me, it wasn’t an entirely full theater there to witness that.

I greatly appreciate how disarming the whole thing was. There are a variety of context clues along the way that are there to let you know that something isn’t quite adding up, but it’s not an easter egg hunt either. West parcels that stuff out sparingly and uses it more to guide the feel of the movie than to inform the experience. Even if you pick up on all of it, by the time West ultimately plays his hand it lands with impact.

In sidestepping the primary spoiler, for those who haven’t seen it, the reason why West’s finale is so impactful is that it does more than just explain things. It takes the themes that he and the characters have been grappling with throughout the film and he gives them an identity. Not only do we see why the themes of regret, love, ambition, and purpose are so important to our characters, but we feel them too.

Rhea Seehorn

With Gaffigan taking on dual roles, the emphasis was placed on his journey but Rhea Seehorn was a great addition to this project. I loved her on Better Caul Saul and her presence alone helped bring a decidedly more adult energy to the screen. That is partially because she is playing his wife and former television partner who has grown apart. Her body language, cadence, and delivery are all more mature than that of her husband but, underneath their marital struggles, they actually have a lot in common when it comes to their career trajectories and professional lives. It was a great bit of symmetry from West who found a way to give both characters substance and motivation.

Katelyn Nacon

Katelyn Nacon was something of a revelation as well because I had only seen her in The Walking Dead around the time when I had already lost steam as a fan, so I didn’t get to see her spread her wings there. Playing Nora here, she fits the bill of the nerdy outsider who is content being a loner until she runs into the new kid in town and they spark up a friendship that enriches her life in ways she didn’t think she needed. It has already been a strong 2023 for her with three releases under her belt but I am more inclined to check out Devil’s Peak over Southern Gospel. Keep an eye out for her moving forward because she is an early contender for Breakthrough Performer.

This one was right up there with my favorite film of 2023 when it came so I am really glad to see that the user reviews are strong and the Metascore is even better. It is refreshing to see things that combine imagination with curiosity and let that just have its space. Oddly, in some kind of cosmic coincidence, this one came around at a time in the year when I had seen some other films with similar thematic tones, so maybe I was just more receptive. Either way, it’s still one of my favorites of the year.

Recommendation: I can’t really give a comparable title without giving something important away, so just open your minds and your hearts to the possibility of what could be and what could have been.

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