The latest entry in the difficult cinema-of-grief genre, Meadowland casts Luke Wilson and Olivia Wilde facing what might be the greatest trauma we can face: the loss of a child. The disappearance of their characters' young son is wrenching. Max goes to the bathroom at a gas station with his folks just feet away but never comes out. Both mother and father unravel in their own ways, which is to say, apart from each other -- her inability to accept what's happened leads to self-destructive behavior, while he mostly just withdraws.
Debuting director Reed Morano is a longtime cinematographer, and her handheld camerawork lends the story a welcome immediacy; she also makes excellent use of a Burzum song and a long shot of an elephant, easily the most poignantly metaphorical of large mammals. The leads make unbearable pain bearable to watch -- Wilson is the sympathetic everyman once again, while Wilde displays depths of feeling she's rarely gotten the chance to exhibit before. (Brief performances from Elisabeth Moss and John Leguizamo make for a nice addition.) The filmmakers take great pains not to stack the deck or overstate the couple's self-evident trauma, but watching the movie is ultimately like being one of their friends: You understand their pain on a conceptual level but can't feel it the way they do.