Synopsis: A man breaks into a tech billionaire’s empty vacation home, but things go sideways when the arrogant mogul and his wife arrive for a last-minute getaway.
Stars: Jason Segal, Lily Collins, Jesse Plemons
Director: Charlie McDowell
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: I’m honestly surprised we haven’t had many more movies like Windfall by this point. Get a script, gather a crew, and find some actors that are friends and have a few weeks between projects. The smaller, the better. Streaming services and studios indie to major would likely bite at the right type of completed project if the price tag were right because these are often easy to produce and promote, earning back the investment quickly. Best of all, if it’s a hit, then everyone’s a winner, and coffers will get full. Should it nosedive out of the gate, it would be easy to brush it under the table as a blip of an experiment that didn’t exactly work out as planned.
I will be in the camp that files Windfall in that “close but no cigar” folder that is chock full of well-intentioned projects (most bearing names like Soderbergh, Marshall, and Howard) that don’t pan out by the time the credits roll. Based on a story idea from star Jason Segal and written as a screenplay by Justin Lader and Andrew Kevin Walker, it’s a four-character thriller from director Charlie McDowell set in Ojai, California. Thriller may be the wrong word because it’s more terse than anything, rarely moving at an escalated pace and often struggling to justify its minimal run time.
Shot at a pleasant modern home that juts up against an orange grove, if you had told me Windfall started as a play, I would have believed it wholly. As the film begins over an effective Bernard Hermann-ish score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans that is meant to evoke memories of classic Hitchcock, a Nobody (Segal, Our Friend) has made himself comfortable at this home on a sunny day. He’s just about to head out when the owners, a CEO (Jesse Plemons, Game Night), and his Wife (Lily Collins, Inheritance) arrive back unexpectedly. Unable to sneak away before they find him, he holds them hostage while the CEO ransoms himself to pay for the man to go away.
With Plemons and Segal particularly intense, the three actors are excellent at handling Lader and Walker’s mouthfuls of expositional dialogue that steers the characters in the same direction you expect. Never even giving the trio individual names, Lader and Walker blessedly find ways to move them around now and then for a change of scenery, but this is essential a three-hander stage show played out on a larger scale. Though they’re only one year apart in age, Collins and Plemons feel like an oddly matched pair, but then again, no one exactly gels with one another, and perhaps that is the point.
Developments start to pick up when we begin to close in on the final thirty minutes and more of the Nobody’s original reasons for being there emerge. However, by that time, we’re so used to the staleness in the air that these tiny explosions of action come off as corrections instead of natural action. It’s easy to see how strong of a filmmaker McDowell is (he’s also the real-life husband of Collins), but for it to keep the attention it wants from the audience, there needed to be more air let out of the overly talking Windfall.