A tasteful California vacation home. Simple, linear structures and a muted color palette. Fields of vibrant orange trees. A picturesque pool. These opening images do an effective job in luring the audience in with a soft, warm breeze type of energy. Windfall introduces Jason Segel’s character, Nobody, with him sitting in a modern patio, serenely drinking an orange juice as he takes in the orange fields in front of him and the mountains beyond. He’s a man taking a minute of peace for himself. A glance at his watch and it’s time to go back into the house. While we aren’t sure quite yet why Nobody roams aimlessly between rooms, it’s evident from his appearance that this is probably not his house. The vibes definitely do not match up.
After pitching a drinking glass into the fields and scrubbing his fingerprints off of door handles, Nobody intentions become clear with the eerie tapping of the score thrumming in. With tensions subtly heightening and a bit of regret on his face, Nobody searches for valuables just as our film’s couple, wife and CEO, played by Lily Collins and Jesse Plemons, unexpectedly arrive at their vacation home. The atmosphere as they enter the household is a mixture of the CEO’s disdain for his assistant’s adequacies and his playfulness in picking up his wife, wanting to lay her down right in the living room. There’s a sensitive disconnect between the spouses from the start making the dynamic one where you automatically side with the thoughtful and reserved wife rather than the condescending CEO husband. Their unbalanced relationship is further emphasized by their character names, as well, with the wife’s being centered on her martial role alone and the CEO’s being his impressive job title, showing that he’s worth more than just his relationship status. The exploration of their complicated relationship is definitely one of the highlights of the film. There’s so much juicy drama to divulge, but they’re holding onto every detail they can keep from the audience.
Once the reality of their robbery and hostage situation becomes undeniable, Nobody’s blatant inexperience as a burglar allows the CEO and his wife to take the situation quite procedurally. The brainstorming sequence as they figure out how much the CEO needs to pay Nobody is bizarre in the absolute best way. The CEO is highly patronizing towards Nobody throughout the process, as the CEO is the one with the money and, presumably, acts like this as his main personality trait. Bottom line, the CEO is insufferable and the wife gradually starts to let her disdain for him show as the film goes on, thankfully.
As they wait for Nobody’s money, they’re forced to kill time together. What ensues is a richly unsettling blend of the surreal reality of being robbed intertwined with a relaxed dark humor. The script plays with such an entrancing tone where the three characters are bantering logically like they’re well informed enough about each other to pick up on the uncomfortable cues no stranger typically sees. It’s a tension-filled dance where it’s both heightened and diffused all at once. Truly, the script is an absolute playful, storm cloud of joy, like you’re eating ice cream at a funeral.
The core three performances are top tier from start to finish. Jesse Plemons excels as an infuriatingly selfish CEO billionaire. Jason Segel thrives in Nobody’s insecure mystery man status. Lily Collins, though, is a stellar revelation as the wife. Lily has always been supremely underrated, but when she’s allowed to craft such a meticulous and measured character arc like this, she’s undeniable. The wife starts out as a submissive, rigid and cold woman who feels misplaced in the role of being the CEO’s spouse and evolves into someone gratifyingly unpredictable. The trio plays off of each other so well that it would be a pleasure to have them in one location together endlessly. It would be our pleasure, certainly not theirs.
I am fully convinced that this movie is a love letter to fresh oranges. Nothing has looked more stunning to me recently than these beautiful fruits shining in the sunlight, begging to be devoured. Citrus lovers, this one’s for you.
Windfall is a slow burn thriller with surprises bubbling to the surface throughout. Director Charlie McDowell has crafted a film where a wife making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches can feel stifling in the shimmering daylight. The score is brilliant, consistently attuned to every mood fluctuation. The visuals, from coloring to shot framing, are always satisfyingly purposeful. With an ending that literally made my jaw drop, Windfall knows exactly where its loyalties survive.
Now streaming on Netflix.