With a cast that boasts Olivia Wilde, Luke Wilson, Elisabeth Moss, Juno Temple, John Leguizamo, Giovanni Ribisi, and many more, one would expect Meadowland to be at least a worthwhile film. Sadly, Reed Morano’s directorial debut, which premiered at the TriBeCa Film Festival back in April, is an immense disappointment. Morano does an admirable job of setting everything up. The first scene cuts right to the chase. Morano begins her film by opening up on a mother, Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and father, Phil (Luke Wilson) and their son. The family is on their way to Ithaca when they decide to stop at the nearest gas station. The whole family goes inside the mini-mart of the gas station to pick up a few things while their son goes to the bathroom. After a few minutes, Phil knocks on the door of the bathroom to check in on his son, but he receives no response from his son after knocking on the door. After knocking a few more times without hearing a response, Phil urges the attendant at the gas station to open up the door. Upon opening the door, their son is nowhere to be found.
Cut to one year later, Sarah and Phil’s lives have been flipped upside down. They still have not found their son after all of this time, but not a day goes by that they do not think about him. This tremendous loss has affected Sarah the most. She is unable to get her mind off of her son all throughout the day. Knowing that her son is alive somewhere out there is eating away at Sarah. Her depression keeps on eating away at her to the point where she is taking to the tendencies of one of her severely depressed students. Sarah’s actions to cope with her depression are not unheard of, but Morano never gives the audience a reason to why Sarah is suddenly having this extreme breakdown a year after the disappearance of her child. It is apparent from the first scene of the time jump that Sarah is completely restless due to the loss of her child. It just does not add up to why she is all of a sudden having an extreme decline in her mental state.
The most interesting aspect of the film has to do with the way Morano draws a comparison between Sarah and one of her students. When Morano reveals that Sarah is a teacher early on in the film, the audience sees Sarah take the earphones out of one of her student’s ear. After class, when Sarah is talking to the student, she discovers a copious amount of scars on the student’s forearm. Getting the idea from this student, Sarah picks up a razor blade and begins to cut herself. Sarah’s depression begins to get worse and worse to the point where you cannot help but be wondering how in the hell Sarah will be able to recover from the traumatic suffering that she is going through.
Morano so desperately wants this to be a film about grief that you can practically hear her shouting it out to her actors from behind the camera. The moments of grief here feel so incredibly artificial that it never allows the viewer to be fully immersed in Sarah’s difficult struggles. Instead, what Morano leaves us with are two implausible characters that the audience will never want to spend the length of a full-length film with, despite the fact that these characters are lead by two impressive performances. If Meadowland shows anything, it is that Wilde and Wilson are completely capable of taking on a difficult subject matter. One can only hope that two continue to voyage into dramatic territory since they handled it marvelously in Meadowland.