Jim Gaffigan Reaches for the Stars in Exquisite Drama

Feb 26, 2023

This review was originally part of our coverage for the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.

Everyone has their “own personal universe,” states Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), the host of an unpopular children’s science show that dreams of greater ambitions. Edwin’s father Mac (Roger Hendricks Simon) used to say there were two types of people in this world—astronauts and astronomers—and while Edwin has been someone on the ground looking at the stars, he’s longed to swim amongst the stars instead. In fact, Edwin’s life seems to be falling apart. His wife, Erin (Rhea Seehorn) wants a divorce, his father is growing more and more forgetful in his advanced age, and desperate to get out of his rut, Edwin sends his application to NASA. But then, a car falls from the sky, carrying a man who looks suspiciously like Edwin, and his entire life changes.
Edwin discovers that the man who fell from the sky, Kent Armstrong (also played by Gaffigan), is completely fine and has taken over Edwin’s job hosting his “Above & Beyond” show, and to make matters worse, he’s moved across the street from Edwin and his family. Edwin’s daughter, Nora (Katelyn Nacon) strikes up a friendship with Kent’s son, Marc (Gabriel Rush)—which Kent certainly isn’t happy about. And in addition to all this, a rocket crashes into the backyard of the Edwin home. In an attempt to become an astronaut instead of just an astronomer, Edwin begins using the wreckage in order to make his own rocket ship in his garage.

From writer-director Colin West, Linoleum takes its time with its mysteries, instead, spending time getting to know the Edwin family, their dreams, desires, and difficulties. With its suburban woes and surreal touches, Linoleum can at times remind of American Beauty, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, or Magnolia, especially with the film’s repeated phrase “sometimes things just happen.”

Image via Shout! Studios

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While Gaffigan has taken on his fair share of more dramatic roles in recent years, Linoleum is arguably his best role yet. As Cameron, Gaffigan is a man dying to get closer to what he’s always wanted. Whereas with Kent—who Cameron calls the antithesis of himself—we see a polar opposite performance from Gaffigan, a cold character full of suppressed rage and backward ideas. Seehorn is also very good as Erin, who also wants to float amongst the stars, but attempts to do so by separating from her husband and heading down her own path. By seeing older episodes of “Above & Beyond,” which Erin used to host with Cameron, Linoleum shows the joy that Erin once had and how she’s lost that spirit in the years since. Also wonderful are Nora and Marc, who could’ve easily had a film of their own. Through this friendship, Linoleum shows two teens that are trying to move out of the shadows of their parents and are still attempting to figure out who they are.

To give away anything more about Linoleum would take away from what makes West’s film so special. The final third, where the pieces start to fall in place, can at times feel messy, but altogether extremely lovely. West has a very specific vision and purpose for everything he’s set up, and watching it all come together is immensely satisfying and genuinely moving. West has crafted a beautiful, intimate, and, at times, an overwhelming story that takes the viewer by surprise in its final minutes.

Linoleum is an exquisite film that proves West to be a compelling young filmmaker, and will make the viewer certainly want to see more of Gaffigan and Seehorn in these types of roles. With this film about people trying to find what makes them extraordinary, West has made an extraordinary tale of the personal universes we all inhabit, the strange messiness of life, and the beauty of how everything all shakes out in the end.

Rating: A-

Linoleum is now playing in theaters.

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