‘Windfall’ typically refers to fruit that has been blown down by the wind or unexpected good fortune. Now also a modest Hitchcockian crime thriller with comedic tendencies, the story follows a man who becomes trapped at a tech billionaire’s vacation home when the couple arrives on a whim. This curious little film has the earmarks of a lockdown film, centring on a small cast, taking place predominantly outdoors and at one location. Directed by Charlie McDowell (The One I Love), its principal stars Jason Segel, Lily Collins and Jesse Plemons also serve as producers, possibly as part of performance-based pay to get their full investment. The strength of the performances keep this thriller on the boil, fresh by virtue of its offbeat handling and whimsical sense of humour.
Segel is best known for playing Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, but has straddled TV and film with some fine performances in The End of the Tour, The Five-Year Engagement and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. It’s amusing to have a lumbering and lovable goofball like Segel in command, a gentle giant of a man who never seems quite sure of his game plan. Able to balance comedy and drama quite dexterously, his casting as “Nobody” informs the tone of Windfall, which you could describe as a hangout thriller. Much like the Duplass brothers, Segel’s approachable aura and easy-going charm work well in these creative, free-wheeling and modest multi-genre productions.
Lily Collins has made a name for herself with a string of good performances, but hasn’t been given the opportunity to truly thrive. Windfall gives her more character to work with than usual, but a definitive performance still seems just on the horizon for the young star in spite of working with her husband in the director’s chair. To be fair, the screenplay’s state of arrested development doesn’t give the trio much to work with, keeping them quite literally anonymous. Playing “Wife” with a creeping disdain, Collins takes her +1 status to the next level as social commentary and symbolism converge.
“I’ve got to be honest, this has been one lousy getaway.”
Jesse Plemons rounds off the trio as “CEO”, just as watchable as Segel, chiming in with an increasingly smug, patronising and irritable tech billionaire who is frustrated by his captor’s indecision and lack of foresight. It’s a well-balanced turn from Plemons whose recent work in The Power of the Dog, Judas and the Black Messiah and I’m Thinking of Ending Things keep him in high demand. Coming to represent many lurking evils associated with the self-serving and callous elite, the see-sawing game of cat and mouse between him and Segel keeps things entertaining and quirky.
Tight and even claustrophobic in spite of being set against a picturesque orange plantation, Windfall’s a surprisingly breezy and playful thriller harnessing lightweight suspense counterbalanced by its dry, awkward and offbeat comedy. Centred on a hostage scenario, where the victims are extremely helpful, the clumsiness of the gunman’s modus operandi keeps the steadily evolving situation precarious and unpredictable. While simple on the surface, there’s much more going on below thanks to obscured motivations and a slow creeping mystery around Nobody’s presence, Wife’s allegiances and CEO’s tolerance of the low-key kidnapping.
The soundtrack signals crime caper, ambling along without ever becoming too threatening, happy to exist in the gamesmanship of the hostage negotiation. The tension of its candid genre mix gives Windfall a lightweight suspense, which is contrasted with its entertaining, off-the-cuff and dry sense of humour. Just as you think you’ve got a handle on it, Windfall’s laid-back hostage situation morphs into something much darker almost by accident as its social commentary ramps up to a more haunting and thought-provoking conclusion.
The bottom line: Candid