SXSW 2022: Linoleum

Directed by: Colin West
Distributed by: TBD

Written by Anna Harrison


“Linoleum” has a perfectly mundane setup: Cameron (Jim Gaffigan) is going through a midlife crisis, the kind that we’ve seen played out on screen countless times before. Only when a car falls out of the sky in front of him do we begin to realize that this movie has quite a bit more going for it than “middle-aged white man grapples with waning relevance,” and “Linoleum” shifts gears, because it turns out that the man driving the car that fell out of the sky looks exactly like Cameron, only with a mustache and a better haircut.

Understandably, the arrival of this man sends Cameron into a tailspin, especially when the man—Kent Armstrong, also played by Jim Gaffigan, but where Cameron slouches and mumbles, Kent has a ramrod straight back and firm voice—takes over Cameron’s kids-oriented science show at a local TV station after it had already been banished to the dreaded late night slots. It’s not just his professional life in disarray, either: his wife, Erin (Rhea Seehorn), has handed him divorce papers; his father (Roger Hendricks Simon), though Cameron never actually calls him “Dad,” can’t recognize him; his daughter, Nora (Katelyn Nacon), has started calling her father only “Cameron” and has entered her phase of teenage rebellion. Simply put, Cameron’s life has not gone the way he planned, and it seems to have all added up to very little. 

So when a satellite falls into Cameron’s backyard, he sees the perfect opportunity to spice things up a bit: he’ll build a rocketship and fulfill his thwarted astronaut dreams. 

In another director’s hands, this is the moment where “Linoleum” might turn nauseatingly twee, but Colin West (also serving as writer) manages to turn this into something much more profound and earnest without being saccharine. Even before the twist at the end where everything—the doppelgängers, the intrusion of Kent’s son, Marc, (Gabriel Rush) into Cameron’s life, the shots of a shattered astronaut helmet—clicks into place, even when it’s just a quirky movie about a man looking back on his life, “Linoleum” manages to tug on the right heartstrings. The snapshots into the lives of Erin, whose younger colleagues at work make her realize her own unfulfilled dreams, and Nora, whose awkward relationship with Marc serves as its own coming-of-age movie even as her parents grapple with the reverse, are compelling in their own right, strengthened by able performances from the cast; Michael Ian Black and Tony Shalhoub appear as well in welcome cameos. 

But it’s really the twist at the end, which I won’t spoil here, that elevates “Linoleum” from standard but well-executed fare into something more. It’s a carefully calculated cascade of events and requires a deft touch to land, but West manages to do so with both grace and style. None of it adds up to anything that is capital-G Great, but that’s okay. “Linoleum” does its job, and while it may not be enough to launch a rocket into space, it’s certainly enough to leave a few tears glistening in your eyes.

“Linoleum” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the SXSW Film Festival.

You can follow more of Anna’s work on LetterboxdTwitterInstagram, and her website.

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