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Review: Windfall – “A well-crafted piece of cinema”

WINDFALL – (L-R) JASON SEGEL as NOBODY, LILY COLLINS as WIFE and JESSE PLEMONS as CEO. Cr: Netflix © 2022

In Windfall, the new Netflix release from director Charlie McDowell (The One I Love, The Discovery), Jason Segel, known only as the character, Nobody, really seems to like his oranges.  As he sits admiring the grove before him, glass of juice in hand he seems to be admiring the ‘fruits’ of his labour (sorry for the pun).  But as he walks through the beautiful landscape, taking an orange off a tree as he goes, making his way amongst the manicured gardens and past the pool into the well-appointed home, it becomes pretty clear something is wrong.  And as he wipes down all the door handles we know he’s not supposed to be there.  

As he quietly pilfers the resident’s items, from Rolex watches to Cartier jewellery to cold hard cash, what he doesn’t know is that the owners, played by Lily Collins (known only as Wife) and Jesse Plemons (known as CEO) are also on their way to their fancily clad country retreat.  Caught in the act, and completely unprepared, Nobody is forced to make some decisions about how this unexpected meeting is now to transpire, and what is never clear is how the three of them will manage to depart after unearthing some darker secrets.

Trying to negotiate their escape, CEO offers to get Nobody a large sum of money, after a bit of humorous back and forth about the amount, they finally agree.  But, not having the $500,000 cash in the house, the three characters are stuck with one another over the next 24 hours while they await its arrival.  We never know quite what the money is for, nor Nobody’s true motivation here, though there are some allusions to potential backstories.  What we do know is that the money they are waiting on will be enough to change Nobody’s life.  “It’s a lot for you,” the Wife says.  “It’s a lot for anyone.  Should be,” he replies.

And such is the tone of Windfall, or should I say tones, as it’s never quite clear whether this is a black comedy that isn’t too comedic, a thriller that is never too thrilling, or a satire of the wealthy that is just never too satirical.  There are elements of all of these in the film.  It’s a film where Segel is the world’s worst burglar whom, despite being none too menacing, seems humorously  able to control his hostages (“Why are we still pretending that this guy is a threat?” asks CEO to which I replied out loud while watching, “Exactly!”) But it’s also a film where Plemons’ character complains about the difficulty of being a wealthy white man while lamenting the mentality of today’s society – “I exist.  So therefore you owe me.” – and Collins’ Wife character talks about trading her wants and desires for her acquired privilege through her marriage.

Director McDowell, who also co-wrote the film, notes that they penned the film for the space, “reverse engineering” the story for the location in which they knew they were going to shoot during the pandemic.  Perhaps that’s why it’s not necessarily tonally consistent.  Though, there are plenty of good elements in this film from the opening 1950’s-esque credit sequence that sets the tone, to the exceedingly effective score from Dani Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.  The film’s scenery is beautiful and its cinematography by Isiah Donté Lee are also stunning.  All of these components make for a well-crafted piece of cinema, even throughout its inconsistencies.

Windfall is essentially a one-setting chamber piece, and as such rests any chance for success firmly on its actors’ shoulders.  Happily, this is where the film shines, with Segel, Plemons and Collins all turning in great performances.  They are what help buoy this film up through the very slow burn of the first and second acts.  It’s the final act, the last 20 minutes or so that will certainly be most divisive here, where Windfall becomes less about what is said and more about what is done.  It’s a bit frantic, and unexpected, but it broke me quite suddenly out of the trance from which I had been watching the previous 70 minutes.  In the end, despite its downfalls, Windfall‘s cast brings this one back from the brink of banality, elevating it to become a more satisfying film that might be especially enjoyed with that refreshing glass of orange juice.

Windfall is available on Netflix March 18th.

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