Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Linoleum: Rocket Science in Suburbia

As a scientist, Cameron Edwin could explain the physics behind his mid-life crisis, but it really isn’t hard to get. His wife is divorcing him, he is getting forced out of his job, and his father is suffering from increasingly pronounced dementia. However, instead of buying a flashy car, he decides to build an interstellar rocket. Plus, stuff keeps dropping out of the clear blue sky in Colin West’s hard to classify Linoleum, which opens Friday in New York.

One day, a sports car fell from the sky before Edwin’s very eyes. His kids are interested in the story, but his wife Erin is not so impressed. Of course, she is divorcing him. Weirdly, the man he helped crawl out of the vehicle looks a lot like him—and also a lot like the jerk replacing him on his
Mr. Wizard-like show. He is sort of like Bill Nye, the Science Guy, but Edwin actually has advanced degrees in science.

The next day, a rocket falls into their backyard. The FAA cordons off their home and then disappears, allowing Edwin to start fitting together the crash debris. Rather awkwardly, his younger doppelganger-replacement Kent Armstrong, moved in across the street, but Armstrong’s son Marc is not a bad guy. Edwin’s teen daughter Nora also kind of likes him to, but not in romantic way, because he isn’t her
type—or so she keeps insisting.

In terms of tone,
Linoleum is sort of like the sf geek’s version of American Beauty, but without the pretentious excesses. Frankly, it might be easier to guess what is going on in Linoleum from reading about it than trying to guess its big twist as a viewer coming in cold.

Without question, the film succeeds to the extent that it does thanks to Jim Gaffigan, who matches his career best performance in
Light from Light with his profoundly sad, yet easy to relate with performance as Edwin (and his nasty alter-ego). He is terrific, but so is Katelyn Nacon, who has a young Aubrey Plaza-vibe going on as Nora. Yet, in some ways, Rhea Seehorn surprises the most as Erin Edwin, who evolves into someone very different from what West initially presents her to be.

This might be the sort of film you can only watch once, because it is probably easy to see the seams if you know where to look. Nevertheless,
Linoleum has a distinctive melancholy that sets it apart. West and the ensemble cast really earn the final bittersweet appeal to viewers’ heartstrings. Recommended for character-driven science fiction, Linoleum opens Friday (2/24) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.