A gut-wrenching Tribeca Film Festival premiere, “Meadowland” starts with a devastating scene. Doting parents Sarah and Phil (Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson) stop at a gas station for snacks while their boy heads to the restroom. Minutes pass and their young son, Jessie, hasn't returned. They ask for the restroom to be opened, and to their horror, he’s not there. A backdoor leading to the garage is their only clue to what happened.
New mom Olivia Wilde pours her heart into the role. Time has passed but Sarah has never fully recovered from her son's abduction; her job as a teacher reminds her daily of his absence. Wilson shows great compassion in the role of a father closer to accepting the fact his son is probably dead. He's a police officer, and his failure to protect Jessie also wears on him.
Director Reed Morano reflected on the difficult opening scene. "I didn’t want it to fall into the typical conventions," she explained. " ‘OK, something bad is about to happen, this is a thriller.’ " Morano said she avoided showing the couple’s son going into the bathroom and instead followed the parents around the store.
"It was very true to life," Wilde added. "We wanted to show that tragic realism, and when you play it back in your mind, what would I have done differently?” The actress notes the innocuous scene immediately before, when the family is pulling into the gas station, has a tone that recurs in the movie. “It’s a real-life, real parenting moment, where not everyone is completely 100 percent focused on each other.
“That’s how Sarah’s remembering her last moments with him,” Wilde continued. “She remembers his cookies, his little voice. She remembers the small moments when looking at Phil.” It’s those small moments where “Meadowlands” really excels. Wilde takes control of so many of these still pauses with a soulful sadness.
“When she goes back into her mind, she thinks who was there. When was the last time that I touched him?” Wilde said she worked closely with Morano to craft the tone of the movie with these moments. There were debates as to what to show in that opening scene, but Morano opted not to reveal the hidden bathroom door or any other foreshadowing of Jessie’s disappearance.
Morano is not unfamiliar with dark topics. Her previous credits, as a cinematographer, include “The Skeleton Twins” and “Kill Your Darlings.” “Meadowland” is her directorial debut, and although dark, the movie does end on a high note. “If you don’t end this with a ray of light at the end of the tunnel, people would hate us,” she joked.