Director: Charlie McDowell
Screenplay: Justin Lader & Andrew Kevin Walker (story by Charlie McDowell & Jason Segel and Justin Lader & Andrew Kevin Walker)
Stars: Jason Segel (Nobody), Lily Collins (Wife), Jesse Plemons (CEO), Omar Leyva (Gardener)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2022
Country: U.S.

Windfall is a COVID thriller—not that it is in any way about COVID or any other infectious disease, but rather that it was produced during the pandemic and was designed to minimize the need for a large crew and actors sharing the same space (it has as many credited screenwriters as it does actors). In this way, it is a relatively clever gambit, taking advantage of a single location (which has a lot of outdoor space) and a small handful of characters—none of whom are named—acting out a tense, at times blackly comical narrative about a house robbery gone wrong. It could easily be a sparse stageplay.

The entire film unfolds in and around the remote, northern California vacation villa of a wealthy tech CEO (Jess Plemons) and his wife (Lily Collins). However, when we first see the sun-dappled villa and its surrounding orange groves, it is occupied by a scruffy drifter played by Jason Segel, who takes advantage of its emptiness to indulge its amenities and rob it of some of its contents. Unfortunately for him, the CEO and his wife arrive for a last-minute weekend getaway, which results in an increasingly stressed and potentially violent confrontation that plays out over the rest of the film. The CEO’s one-percenter smugness plays against his wife’s frustration and the intruder’s insecurities; it is like a morality play about the conflict between the have’s and the have not’s and how little common ground there is to be found between them. It is as if they literally don’t speak the same language or occupy the same county.

If and when Windfall works, it is largely because of the performances. Plemons’s CEO is haughty and faithless, an empty signifier of the new billionaire economy and its attendant soullessness. Lily Collins plays his wife as a mix of the long-suffering and calculating (she was his former assistant), while Segel’s character (called “Nobody” in the credits) is a stand-in for all the desperate outsiders who spend their lives looking in on the American Dream, rather than living it. Precious little backstory is given for him, and at various points there are teases that we might find out how he got in his predicament, but we never do, which is one of the film’s virtues. It leaves enough ambiguity to keep us interested and engaged.

Director Charlie McDowell’s previous films, The One I Love (2014) and The Discovery (2017), were intriguing what-if? dramas with fantasy/science fiction elements. Windfall is more straightforward; the script, which is credited to Justin Lader (who wrote McDowell’s previous films) and Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) from a story originally suggested by McDowell and Segel, doesn’t have too much up its sleeve, but it works well enough for its short, relatively tight duration. The untimely arrival of the house’s gardener (Omar Leyva) promises further complications, and the Hitchcock quotient certainly gets amplified as we move toward the conclusion, where we imagine things can only go badly. Yet, while Windfall is opportunistic in a good way, it still isn’t quite good enough to overcome its intended limitations.

Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick

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Overall Rating: (2.5)

James Kendrick

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