Jim Gaffigan aims for the stars in quirky and emotional Linoleum
As evidenced by Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film doesn’t have to play by the rules to elicit emotions. Sometimes the best way to touch the heart of an audience is telling a story that’s out-there on the surface as a way of masking its true purpose.
Linoleumis a similar kind of film. Jim Gaffigan plays Cameron Edwin, a nebbish guy who hosts a Bill Nye-style kids science TV show, Above & Beyond, that unfortunately airs at the odd time of midnight. Living in the idyllic town of Fairview Heights in the 1980s with his wife, Erin (Rhea Seehorn) and two kids, Nora (Katelyn Nacon) and Sam (Levi Chapin), Cameron has pipe dreams of becoming an astronaut.
But strange things start happening when he works up the nerve to send in an application to NASA, including his doppelganger, who goes by the name of Kent Armstrong, moving to town and immediately taking over his show. Soon thereafter, a piece of space junk – supposedly an old booster rocket from Apollo 10 – crash lands in Cameron’s yard, inspiring him to try to build a rocket of his own.
Written and directed by Colin West, the film offers up multiple different aspects to tell its relatively simple story. It returns repeatedly to Above & Beyond segments, sometimes just to show what Cameron does and sometimes to underscore other parts of the story. There are vague sci-fi elements that bring an air of mystery. And family issues with Cameron and his family, as well as Kent and his son, Marc (Gabriel Rush), keep the film grounded.
Likewise, the tone of the film shifts back-and-forth between comedy and drama, something it’s ideally suited to do since it stars a famous comedian in Gaffigan and a well-known dramatic actor in Seehorn. West cycles through absurd, heartfelt, and head-scratching moments, somehow balancing everything out so that the central idea of the film never gets lost.
The heart of the film is in its various relationships. Cameron and Erin are at the forefront, as their marital troubles color almost everything in the film. Cameron is thrown by the sudden appearance of Kent, making decisions he almost certainly wouldn’t otherwise. Nora starts up a friendship with Marc, a side story that winds up having way more consequences than it initially seems like it will have.
Although Gaffigan has plenty of acting experience, he rarely gets to stretch himself as much – or as well – as he does in his dual role here. Seehorn, who was often the best part of the already stellar Better Call Saul, proves yet again that she deserves to be showcased often. Nacon, who was on The Walking Dead for four seasons, shows that she’s a bright up-and-coming star.
The structure of the oddly-named Linoleum takes more than a little patience, but it offers up an ending that rewards persistent viewers. With a quirky story and great acting across the board, it’s a small film that winds up feeling much bigger than it actually is.
Linoleum is now playing in select theaters.