Synopsis: Full of misgivings, a young woman travels with her new boyfriend to his parents’ secluded farm.
This is a film about depression and about unresolved issues destroying someone. It starts with a dreamlike and melancholy montage of an empty house before cutting to a young woman, “Lucy” (Jessie Buckley) waiting for her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to pick her up. During their car journey to Jake’s parents’ house it is revealed through Lucy’s inner monologue that she is thinking about leaving Jake. There is some nice foreshadowing when Jake says that he feels “invisible” as well as the unsubtle hints that Jake and his girlfriend are the same person. When the young couple arrive at Jake’s parents’ home the unreality starts to creep in. Lucy notices a picture on the wall that seems to be of her as a child not Jake and she receives a creepy voicemail that she lies about.
Different versions of how Jake and his girlfriend met crop up during their visit to his parents as well as her art and poetry being revealed as the work of other people. Jake’s mother (Toni Collette) describes Jake as “controlling” and warns Lucy not to let him control her. She also gushes over how proud she was when Jake won the diligence award at his old high school despite not being gifted in any way. Jake is clearly bitter and resentful over this. After Jake and his partner leave Jake’s parents and get back on the road the tension starts building. Their conversation is even more disjointed and weird than before. Jake gets a great line when he discusses how ostracized children can still carry their issues around with them years later. The couple get ice cream from a pair of creepy, Stepford Wife-esque teenage servers (played by Hadley Robinson and Gus Birney) and meet a dark haired girl (Abby Quinn) who is heavily implied to be who Jake has based his fantasy girlfriend on.
Jake then drives them to his old high school, and muses on how people no longer know how to be human. When they get to the high school Jake’s relationship with Lucy completely breaks down and he leaves her in the car while he enters the school. There is a brilliant moment where Jake’s girlfriend says she was never taught how to say no, and she goes looking for Jake. There is a lovely tender moment when the school’s caretaker tells Lucy that he sees her. Jake and Lucy find each other again, and beautiful, idealized versions of them ( played by Ryan Steele and Unity Phelan) perform an intricate dance together in the school hallway. We see Jake as an old man accepting his diligence award in front of his equally aged high school class, implying he has never got over this, and Jake then sings “Lonely Room” from Oklahoma. His peers applaud him, and the film ends with a shot of a car completely covered in snow, suggesting that Jake has ended his own life. The film asks the question; in a world of celebrities, superheroes and influencers, how can an ordinary person be happy and content with their own life? Despite his best efforts to do the right thing and be a good person, even someone that exists entirely in Jake’s head rejects him, and Jake can no longer cope.
Jessie Buckley plays a likable role as Jake’s imaginary girlfriend. She captures the ennui and also the kindness of Lucy as well as her anger and vulnerability, which is really Jake’s vulnerability, at the climax of the film. Jesse Plemons is great throughout this film. He shows the hints of darkness and coerciveness in Jake’s character as well as the explosive flashes of anger at his “parents”. Plemons shows Jake’s frustration and hopelessness brilliantly when he lists the platitudes that people say to those who are struggling in a fit of rage. We also see the kindness of this character in the scene where he is feeding his aged mother, which becomes much more poignant when we consider his worldview that nothing he does matters.
Toni Collette plays Jake’s gregarious to the point of hysteria mother with great creepiness and also pathos especially in the scene where she laughs at her own joke and the laughter turns into sobbing. Collette also shows her physical acting ability when she plays the older version of Jake’s mother as does David Thewlis when he portrays an older version of Jake’s father in the grip of dementia. Thewlis gets some funny moments in this film as Jake’s blase dad as well as being an equally creepy foil to Collette’s mother.
Abby Quinn plays a great introvert in her short scene and I really liked how she went from frightened and wary to perky in less than a second when she was handing Jake his change. Hadley Robinson and Gus Birney were very creepy and jarring as the ice cream servers and I enjoyed the way their movements were so in sync, which added to the creepiness. Ryan Steele, Unity Phelan and Fredrick E. Wodin offered up a great performance of Jake’s fantasy towards the end of the film as well.
The CGI of the cartoon pig reminded me a lot of Watership Down. This was the only real CGI in this film which was good enough and oddly put me in mind of the Charlotte’s Web animation. The pig delivers a message of hope at the film’s end, the wackiness of which it lampshades by pointing out that it is a pig being eaten by maggots, which is a call back to Jake and his girlfriend’s arrival at Jake’s parents’ farm.
There is some great soulful and mysterious music when Lucy walks through the corridors of Jake’s old high school as well as a really nice creepy theme when Lucy is hiding in a doorway and the caretaker finds her. There is also a great dissonant guitar piece as Lucy walks down the hall. Jesse Plemons performs a great rendition of Lonely Room which is all the more ironic given that this is taking place in the character’s head. There are some really great uses of silence in this film which actually add to the atmosphere more than any musical score could.
This was a brilliant film. It was well acted, well written and it achieved the almost Tolkien like feat of raising the ordinary person above the status quo as we see through Jake’s desperate attempts to hold himself and his sanity together. As I said earlier the film poses the question as to whether we can be happy with an ordinary life whilst being bombarded with ideals of cultural and physical brilliance through all forms of media. The answer seems to be no, but somehow we root for Jake to make things work with his girlfriend, who is really a metaphor for how he perceives himself and his place in the world. It’s hard not to feel for Jake when he describes how the emotional baggage that “weird” kids accumulate in high school can follow them around for the rest of their lives. The film ends on a down note, but the journey it took us on will live long in our memories.
- Incidental Music9.0