In Robin Swicord's Wakefield, an adaptation of the late E.L. Doctorow's short story of the same name, disillusioned lawyer Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) chases a raccoon from his decrepit backhouse and … never returns. The story's not science fiction; Howard doesn't get swallowed by a black hole. He's still among the living, though he prefers to keep his wife, Diana (Jennifer Garner), and children (Victoria Bruno and Ellery Sprayberry) in the dark on his whereabouts after a single night's impromptu escape from reality stretches into a yearlong break of scrounging through the neighbors' refuse for a meal — and maybe some melted ice cream if he can beat that Russian scavenger family to the trash bins.
From his vantage point on the second floor of the backhouse, Howard spies on his family through a many-mullioned round window that appropriately resembles an eye. Imagine Rear Window, but instead of deconstructing a murder, Wakefield is deconstructing a marriage. The film is almost entirely set in this backhouse, like a one-man show driven by Cranston's surprisingly subtle performance. Occasional flashbacks zip us into Howard and Diane's turbulent relationship, revealing to the audience — though not to Howard — that it's he who has been in the wrong all these years. Through voiceover, Howard muses about what he thinks his wife is saying or doing, accenting his imitations of Diana's voice with an annoying up-pitch. His assumptions are cold and ridiculous: She must be flirting with that handsome, younger guy at the search-party get-together!
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
But as Howard watches his wife in her private moments — lotioning her legs, paying bills, talking on the phone — he comes to see her more humanely, the gravity of what he has given up becoming more and more apparent. Swicord turns what could be a dark or one-note premise into a sometimes-charming, sometimes-heartbreaking meditation on a man's loss of self after having set out to conquer the job, wife, house and kids he thought would make him happy.