Jim Gaffigan shines as a man following his childhood dream of being an astronaut

Some people are content watching stars, while others want to swim among them. That’s the guiding principle of Colin West’s lo-fi sci-fi charmer Linoleum. For Cam (Jim Gaffigan), he once aspired to be an astronaut but settled for a terrestrial life. Things, for the most part, worked out well for Cam. He’s happy with his family, suburban home, and job as the host of a Bill Nye-esque educational science show. Along the way Cam became complacent, and now his life is on the cusp of unravelling. Someone else is taking over his show and he and his wife are heading for a divorce. With his life unraveling he gets an unexpected chance to chase after his childhood dreams and build himself a rocket to go to space. For a movie about people facing life’s most common and most challenging times, it’s Linoleum’s eye to the sky attitude that helps keep it grounded and poignant.

And it pays to keep an eye turned upward, as Cam and his family get another surprise when a rocket falls from the sky and lands in their backyard (and that isn’t the only thing that drops from the heavens in the movie). The rocket narrowly avoids the house that’s already crumbling within, but it affords Cam the chance to send himself where he always wanted to go. The metaphor is obvious, but West’s script makes it work. It calls to mind another sci-fi indie in Safety Not Guaranteed. Both movies bank on the ability to sell the emotions of the story enough to get the audience on board for the fantastical places the story wants to go. In the case of Linoleum, it works.

The reason it works so well is the cast. West Duchovny, Rhea Seehorn, Tony Shalhoub, and Gabriel Rush, all do strong work in supporting performances. Everyone in the cast is effective in their roles, but the movie lives or dies by Gaffigan, and he turns in his best dramatic work to date. He projects the sunny optimism you’d expect from someone whose job is to teach and make science fun for kids, but he laces in enough sadness that covers the range of what Cam is going through. The melancholy note Gaffigan hits works well for the material and the performance. His work as Cam is heightened by his work in a second role as Kent Armstrong, the more successful version of Cam who moves into the house across the street. West’s script takes some ambitious swings thematically and tonally, and it’s Gaffigan’s work that anchors the film and makes it all cohere.

The journey through Linoleum is a little wobbly here and there, but the ending delivers the emotional payoff to make up for any bumps along the road. It’s the kind of ending that reaches for the stars knowing that if it comes up short, well, you’ll land on the clouds with the determination to keep going.

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