Linoleum is certainly something of a curiosity as it strives to use a simple premise to explore, however subtly, themes of loss, identity, and fulfilling a dream of a suburban husband and father who finds a space age satellite drop out of the sky and into his backyard fueling his lost ambition of becoming an astronaut and building a homemade rocket to do just that.
It also provides though a chance for comedian Jim Gaffigan, quickly becoming a prince, if not a king, of the indies to play dual roles and show a little more range than he normally has in past films like another previous SXSW entry, Being Frank. This one had its World Premiere at SXSW tonight in the narrative competition and is like many other films here hopeful for acquisition, most likely a small distributor at best with VOD plans, or even an Amazon which has shown a propensity to this kind of sci-fi hybrid in the past.
Gaffigan is Cameron Edwin, your average suburban dad, stuck in nowheresville as host of a local PBS-style science tv show, sort of a very low budget Bill Nye the Science Guy. Average is the way you might describe this guy, happily married to wife Erin (the always wonderful Rhea Seehorn of Better Call Saul), and father of Nora (Katelyn Nacon). We are introduced to them right off the bat, but after the mild exposition monumental things are about to happen to Cameron when a space race-era old satellite falls into his lap, well actually his backyard and he sees it as a sign, one that instantly takes him back to his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut. He’s way past that now, but with his own scientific knowledge that he dutifully dispenses on local TV he gets the bright idea of building a rocket from these old parts and soaring off into space. Or so it appears. It’s not that easy, and family, friends and doctors wonder what is happening to Cameron as his Quixotic-like quest seems more and more like a guy tilting at windmills. Then weird stuff really happens. A mysterious lookalike doppleganger named Kent Armstrong (also Gaffigan) moves in next door and clearly is not the friendly neighbor type, but rather a guy with sinister ideas. Another sign we may be entering the twilight zone is when a sports car just drops out of the sky crashing into the street. And who is that teen boy (Gabriel Rush) who comes into his life?
Writer-director Colin West says he was inspired by his own grandfather’s sense of loss of his wife of 60 years as he slipped into dementia. That was a springboard apparently but is not this story, but it might give you a clue West is interested in much more than a middle-aged guy building a rocket in his garage. This is also not Back to the Future though the time in which it is set is not quite clear, and that would be on purpose. West is more interested in serving up an emotional adventure of the mind than a CGI-driven sci-fi journey which on this film’s low budget he couldn’t do anyway. It is best not to reveal the twists in store but it all eventually comes into focus, and West is a talented enough filmmaker to do what he intended to do and bring it home.
I love Gaffigan’s stand up specials and wry commentaries on family life on the CBS Sunday Morning News, and he is one of those comics who is a very capable actor as again ably demonstrated here. In fact the whole cast, which also includes brief moments with Tony Shalhoub, Michael Ian Black and other notables, is just fine. For me Linoleum is a pleasant enough, if somewhat less than memorable ride that doesn’t really take flight like you might hope it would. For Gaffigan fans though that should be enough. Producers are Chad Simpson, Chadd Harbold, and Dennis Masel. Storm City Films was the production company and financier.
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