‘Linoleum’: Jim Gaffigan plays two men with heads in the stars in oddball sci-fi gem

Movie toggles between satirical comedy and something darker on the way to a satisfying ending.

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Scientist Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan) plans to turn some space wreckage into a working rocket ship, with the surprising support of his wife, Erin (Rhea Seehorn), in “Linoleum.”

Shout! Studios

Something about writer-director Colin West’s eccentric, disturbing and touching oddball gem “Linoleum” reminded me of an old “Twilight Zone” episode stretched to movie length, or maybe I should call it a mid-life crisis version of “Donnie Darko,” and if you’re thinking this sounds like some kind of science fiction-infused character study with more than a few twists and turns, we’re on the right track.

Much of “Linoleum” is at least initially deliberately vague and fuzzy, including the setting—though we know we’re somewhere in suburban Ohio, and the time period seems to be the late 1980s or early 1990s. Jim Gaffigan plays one of the most unreliable narrators of the year in one Cameron Edwin, a slightly disheveled, borderline absent-minded-professor type who is mired in the quicksand of unfulfillment as he approaches 50.

Cameron is a brilliant scientist who once dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but he finds himself hosting a children’s show on the local public TV station that is seen by almost nobody, given its midnight timeslot. Worse, his wife Erin (Rhea Seehorn, terrific as always), who once co-hosted the show with Cameron, is now seeking a divorce and planning to move away in order to take a job with an aerospace museum in another town. And if that’s not enough reason to despair, Cameron’s teenage daughter Nora (Katelyn Nacon) has grown distant while she deals with her own issues, and Cameron’s father Mac (Roger Hendricks), an esteemed scientist in his own right, is in a memory care facility and falling ever deeper into the depths of dementia.



Shout! Studios presents a film written and directed by Colin West. No MPAA rating. Running time: 101 minutes. Available Tuesday on demand.

You can almost feel the weight of Cameron’s plight in the slump of his shoulders and the resignation in his voice—and things go from depressing to big-time weird when a red sports car seems to fall out of the sky and nearly hits Cameron. The driver of that car: Kent Armstrong, a famous former astronaut who is also played by Jim Gaffigan and comes across as a “younger and better-looking” version of Cameron, as Cameron himself puts it.

Cameron could have added that Kent is more confident, more successful and more ambitious, because it turns out Cameron’s TV station has sold the rights to his show to PBS for national syndication—but it will be Kent, not Cameron, hosting the program. Turns out Kent also has bought the house across the street from Cameron, making him seem like even more of a mirror image of Cam—a version of Cameron’s life had it turned out differently.

When Cameron meets Kent, he references that sports car falling out of the sky, but Kent has no idea what he’s talking about; maybe it was a dream, or a figment of Cameron’s imagination? Ah, but then another object plummets from the sky and lands in Cameron’s backyard—a Soviet rocket that appears to be from the 1960s—and this time, it seems to be a real occurrence, because everyone sees the dang thing.

All of a sudden, it’s as if we’re in a wacky, live-action Disney movie from back in the day, as Cameron decides he’s actually going to build a working rocket ship from that wreckage, with the encouragement of Kent’s sensitive and smart teenage son Marc (Gabriel Rush) and eventually with the surprising support of Erin, who says this could finally be Cameron’s chance to do something truly great. WHAT. Is everyone crazy? What is happening here?

Writer-director West drops plot hints like so many breadcrumbs throughout, whether it’s in the form of certain comments made by the doctor (Tony Shalhoub) at the memory care facility, or the growing relationship between Cameron’s daughter and Kent’s son, or a very unusual Halloween party—not to mention the chilling sight of an old woman (Elisabeth Henry) who keeps materializing on Cameron’s block, silently gazing at him. Why does she seem so familiar? Where is she from, and how does she disappear like that?

The first-rate production design, the music by Mark Headley and the cinematography by Ed Wu all contribute to the feeling of a surrealist adventure that toggles between satirical comedy and something darker and much heavier.

Jim Gaffigan is one of the most popular stand-ups on the planet, and deservedly so—but he also has carved out an impressive career as a character actor of considerable range, in films such as “Chappaquiddick” (2017), “Them That Follow” (2019), “Tesla” (2020) and in particular the brilliant and haunting “American Dreamer” (2019). The twin performances in “Linoleum” are not flashy, yet Gaffigan does a sharply effective job in creating two very sides of the same coin—the nearly defeated but still hopeful Cameron, and the seemingly successful Kent, who is haunted by his own set of demons.

“Linoleum” winds its way to an ending that will take some by storm, while others might have figured it out halfway through. Either way, it feels authentic, and earned, and it might just take your breath away.

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