Olivia Wilde is not just underrated, her talents are undervalued. That's my takeaway from watching her latest indie, Meadowland, about a mother struggling with a cloud of grief and guilt one year after her son's abduction. Think Rabbit Hole, but less bougie and with a smaller focus on marital strife. Plus, Olivia's Sarah gets much closer to rock bottom than Nicole Kidman's Becca did.
Yet unlike Rabbit Hole, which was a Tony-winning play first (Cynthia Nixon!) before it became a movie, Meadowland is not getting the critical love it deserves, in spite of its 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Olivia fronts the film as an actor and producer, and she has been quietly hustling for the movie since its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April. Meadowland, which is now out on VOD and playing in select theatres, had a screening earlier this week in New York that was hosted by Martin Scorsese, and attended by Chris Rock, and Olivia's upcoming Vinyl co-star Bobby Cannavale.
.@BobbyCannavale, @OliviaWilde & @ChrisRock chatting at a screening of #Meadowland pic.twitter.com/zdDhr9V1d2— Bennett Marcus (@BennettHMarcus) November 24, 2015
A few weeks ago, Olivia was one of the indie stars celebrated by The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg at AFI Fest, opposite Jason Segel (The End of the Tour), Saorise Ronan (Brooklyn), Blythe Danner (I'll See You in My Dreams) and Sarah Silverman (I Smile Back), among others. Each of the panel's attendees are trying to get noticed for their pivotal performances this year, amidst the awards season frenzy and louder campaigners. There, Olivia talked about the genesis of the film and how hard it was for her and her director, Reed Morano — a woman — to find financing for the film. Olivia said that it only, really, got greenlit once Luke Wilson signed on to play her husband. It's not like Reed is unqualified either; she was the director of photography on acclaimed movies like The Skeleton Twins, Kill Your Darlings and Frozen River.
Off-screen, Olivia vented her frustrations on this topic, while doing her best to sell the movie. But on-screen, she sells her character's pain by any means necessary. Aside from being stripped down to no makeup or sporting stringy hair, there's the despondent return to "Sarah's" routine as a teacher, her communication fallout with her husband, and assorted will-she-or-won't-she dabbling in recreational drug use or infidelity. The whole movie feels like a play, as we watch Sarah learning to process her profound loss, in a manner similar to Ruth Wilson's Alison in the early episodes of The Affair.
Meadowland veers often into the world of cliche, most notably when one of Sarah's students reads from a poem and analyzes it saying "you get used to [the darkness], until it gets light again." On the nose or not though, you buy it, even with the requisite Times Square loneliness trope or her yellow sweatshirt cloak. The film remains hauntingly believable, down to Sarah's disposable interactions with a flaky, trashy foster mom played by Elisabeth Moss. In fact, the whole supporting crew is great in their small doses - Juno Temple, Giovanni Ribisi, Scott Mescudi... lots of great faces. But Olivia is the standout here, and she's even better than she was in Drinking Buddies, one of the best movies of the past five years. The common thread? She produced both films. Still, even though she’s been actively finding her own projects, managing the diversity of her career, we’ll probably only really start taking her seriously once Scorsese’s Vinyl hits HBO in February. Is that unfair?
Sure, Olivia may have had one too many Cowboys & Aliens or The Change-Ups on her resume to look like the real deal, but her recent stint in the ridiculous Love the Coopers plus her tour-de-force in Meadowland proves she can deliver, no matter what the product is.
So, why not Olivia?