Writer and Director: Colin West
This quirky tale about space and science starts well when Cameron, the middle-aged boffinish host of kids’ TV show Above and Beyond, is replaced with a real life astronaut. It seems as if Cameron’s desire to go into space will be truly thwarted but then, just like that, a rocket crashes into his back garden. With the wreckage, he starts building his own spacecraft. However, while Colin West has put much thought into his film’s structure, there’s not enough jet fuel in the story itself.
The multiple storylines all make sense at the end, but the different strands and the mixture of sentiment and fantasy don’t always make for gripping viewing. Just as the film starts to be about the construction of the rocket, the narrative suddenly changes to focus on Cameron’s daughter who begins a friendship with the new boy at school. And then when it settles down to be a family drama, the tact changes again to show the home life of the new boy and his astronaut father. The film’s puzzles are all resolved in the final minutes, but the journey there is long.
Still, even though the story is a tad dull – there’s strangely little to it despite how complex it becomes later – there is some pleasure to be had in spotting the many doubles that appear. Right at the start, the rocket that lands into Cameron’s yard is mirrored in the car that falls from the sky next to the post box where Cameron is posting yet another application to join the team at NASA. And, of course, we have Cameron and his nemesis – or antithesis as he calls him – the astronaut Kent Armstrong. Both are played by stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan. Cameron is a cheerful innocent, living and failing in the shadow of his father who won a Copley Medal for his contribution to science. In comparison, his doppelganger is a strict disciplinarian but he’s so thinly drawn he’s more of a pantomime villain than he should be.
Another doubling is that of Cameron’s daughter (a very impressive Katelyn Nacon, best known for The Walking Dead) and Kent’s son (Gabriel Rush) who share the same birthday: 31 October. Cameron’s wife (Rhea Seehorn), unfulfilled with her job at the local space museum, sees her younger self in her eager new assistant. Indeed, the only character without a match is Cameron’s son, Sam, who is played, for the eagle-eyed, by many different actors.
It’s a shame that blast off takes so long to arrive as West certainly pulls everything together with skill and these scenes finally come with some emotional heft, even if one of the seems to adhere to the old trope of a woman sacrificing her career for her husband’s. Colin West is certainly clever, but if only his cleverness were revealed a little sooner.
Linoleum is screening at the BFI London Film Festival 2022.