Movie review: Bryan Cranston in Wakefield

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Howard Wakefield finds himself hiding out in his garage attic; Howard, a New York lawyer, husband, and father stumbles upon what he thinks to be a great idea! Who hasn’t thought about disappearing, checking out, getting away? As Howard soon finds out his accidental antidote to a seemingly unhappy life has consequences he didn’t anticipate.

Bryan Cranston — who carries the entire movie; in a performance that’s not at all Breaking Bad however could easily be a disillusioned version of his Malcolm in the Middle father role.

wakefieldWakefield is an American drama film directed and written by Robin Swicord, based on the short story of the same name by E. L. Doctorow.

In the beginning, we see Cranston storming through Grand Central Station. I never get tired of movies filmed with GCS as their backdrop. Cranston is a visibly unhappy kinda guy. Interesting side note: As Cranston makes his way through the station he walks past producer Wendy Federman and cut’s in front of Doctorow’s’ widow Helen when purchasing his coffee.

Viewers can quickly connect and identify with the hustle and bustle of following a hurried jam- packed schedule of work, home for dinner; sleep and it starts all over again the next day. We can see Wakefield’s’ resentment of his oh so perfect life and wife as he watches his family through their living room window. He narrates his wives every emotion as she calls his cell phone and he lets it go to voicemail. As he watches his family from a far this one moment changes his entire life. It’s at this pivotal moment he decides he would much rather be an observer of his life than a participant.

Through the film, we are given glimpses of the dynamic between Wakefield and his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner). We watch as Wakefield describes the cat and mouse game playing that this fifteen-year marriage has become. Frustration begins to build between husband and wife which leads Wakefield to questions, like the one about wanting to put his life on hold, asking himself doesn’t everybody want to escape… check out?

Wakefield originally ends up in the attic of his own garage when Wakefield chases a racoon into the family’s attic of the garage. There he watches his family from the upstairs window. At that moment Diana calls, again, Wakefield ignores the call a second time, Wakefield watches Diana react to his avoidance of her calls. He laughs and sneers at her while she is dealing with their two teenage daughters, dinner and wrapping up her own work of the day and becoming more and more upset that he is not home yet. He seems to be oblivious to his wife’s feelings other than to openly criticize her anger of him for not showing up for dinner. He gets caught up in spying on his family and after a few hours he feels he might be hard pressed to explain his tardiness to his “overbearing wife.” He opts for hiding out in the attic for a few more hours — which will eventually become days, then weeks, then nearly a year.

Wakefield stars Bryan Cranston. (IFC Films)
Wakefield stars Bryan Cranston. (IFC Films)
As the movie progresses, Wakefield has no interaction with anyone except two developmentally challenged kids (Pippa Bennett-Warner and Isaac Leyva) who live next door, and he only leaves the attic only at night to scavenge for food from neighborhood trash bins. He, in the end, is left with himself which brings him to a place of rediscovery and renewed sense of self., this is a throwback to Doctorow’s short story itself and an earlier work by Nathaniel Hawthorne, also called Wakefield!

He mimic’s the voices of others he sees like “Babs” played by Beverly D’Angelo. Another woman he has contempt for. The narrative and never-ending dialog at best is ego driven and judgemental. There are some brief moments of laughter along with some thought provoking moments, however, never brilliant moments. I am unimpressed.  Overall this is a creepy guy who is full of resentment and eventually seems to come around to the fact that he actually loves his wife. He has two teenage daughters that he some how feels have disregarded him entirely; so why not do the same to them by dissapearing in the garage???  The ending leaves the viewer with more questions than answers.  What happens with Diana and the daughters… will there be a Wakefield 2?

One word summation: Not great but … okayfield.
"I definitely had moments in my wonderful but very long marriage where I thought I could take a break today," said director Robin Swicord on her film 'Wakefield' at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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About Dawn McReynolds

Originally from Michigan, Dawn McReynolds is a state-certified trainer in collaborative communication and certified cognitive behavioral consultant. Growing up on the old black-and-white movies of the 1950s, she inherited a passion for film from her father. Her favorite genres include horror, sci-fi and anything "out there" or unique. "In the beginning we talk together, we enter a process of change by listening to one another, we find success by acknowledging together."