Windfall, director Charlie McDowell’s latest feature, opens with a stunning wide shot that slowly zooms in on a luxurious Californian vacation home. It’s enveloped by opening credits and an atmospheric score that evokes a powerful sense of foreboding, soon revealing a “Windfall” title card. The film’s opening is Hitchcockian in nature and serves as an Old Hollywood throwback thanks to Isiah Donté Lee’s delicate cinematography. The plot follows a married couple who arrive at their vacation home only to find themselves face-to-face with the person robbing it — a man who had just spent the day drinking their orange juice, picking freshly grown oranges from their trees, and lounging by their pool, dreaming about what it would be like to live such a lifestyle.
None of the characters have names. They’re credited as Nobody (Jason Segel), CEO (Jesse Plemons), and Wife (Lily Collins). The CEO is an arrogant, overly confident, and controlling tech billionaire. It doesn’t take long for us to learn that his and his wife’s marriage is deeply troubled, as she is the target of his constant criticisms. CEO finds Nobody’s attempt to rob and intimidate him amusing, and helps him secure a bigger ransom amount — but not too big, as he explains the logistics of how much money weighs, physically carrying it, and getting it in the first place without the amount raising too much alarm. It’s captivating seeing the actors play against type, especially Segel and Plemons, with the latter having a strong screen presence.
The decision to leave the characters without names feels like an oversight, which is especially troubling considering there’s little character development when this film is character-driven and therefore dialogue-heavy. While we do learn more about the characters and their motivations, it’s not enough. It feels like Windfall serves only to make commentary on social class and wealth in America, but it’s too shallow to ever be considered commentary. It makes you wonder what Noah Baumbach could produce if he tackled the home-invasion genre, complete with class critique.
Windfall’s single strength lies in its theatrical opening, but it never delivers the spectacle promised by the masterfully suspenseful score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s a slow burn that fizzles out as the tension is quickly lost while the film drags on with little action. There’s no sense of urgency from the wife and CEO who take orders from a robber too incompetent to ask for enough money and successfully tie them with restraints. There are some small and entertaining surprises, though, but the intriguing ending makes you wish what came beforehand was more engrossing. This isn’t much of a mystery, a thriller, or a drama.
Windfall was made by friends during the COVID-19 pandemic and it certainly feels that way. It has an intimate quality with its small cast and single setting. The film is based on a story by McDowell, his longtime friend Segel, frequent collaborator Justin Lader, and Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker, with the latter two writing it into screenplay format. McDowell is also married to Collins and is friends with Plemons. Windfall feels like it should be so much better, with so much more depth, but if anything, these longtime friends had fun collaborating on a project that helped get them through the pandemic.
Windfall is available to stream exclusively on Netflix now
by Toni Stanger