"Something went wrong with this but one thing’s for sure - it’s not really worth figuring out what that something was"

Robin Swicord is an excellent writer. She’s penned the screenplays for Memoirs of a Geisha, Matilda, Little Women and a good few more. Many of these featured fantastic, fleshed out characters and essential female representation in an industry where we’re too often let down. So, what the heck happened with her latest directing and writing credit, Wakefield?

Loosely based on a short story by Nathaniel Hawthrone, it follows the story of a Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston), a father and husband who one day decides to pack it all in out of spite. Hiding from his wife Diana (Jennifer Garner) and their twin daughters, Howard decides to live secretly in their garage attic so he can watch and make sure that Diana doesn’t have the audacity to move on with her life.

Well, other people might interpret that differently. Some would say that Howard has been in a prison - unfairly tied down by family and a career, he deserves to take a break and still be loved and missed by those he’s left behind. Many of these people are probably also Bryan Cranston fans, whose undeniable charisma may encourage the dedicated following to believe that Howard is a fascinating character.

In reality, he’s a repugnant, misogynistic character who treats his wife appallingly, ignores his kids and believes that the universe owes him something for his own decisions. He’s allowed to escape his responsibilities, while Diana has to now adapt to being in a strapped financial state and the sole carer for two teenage girls.

Now the film could deal with this by having effective satire or repercussions, by actually being aware and propelling the unpleasant character at the centre of the plot. Bizarrely, Swicord just lets Howard’s horrible stream of consciousness drag on and he doesn’t even learn to change, not in any way. This character is just left to carry on as a reminder of a nasty side of society that currently feels all too prevalent. It’s interminable to be around.

Even stranger, Wakefield seems to think it’s some kind of reflective, lofty Oscar bait. A scene where two disabled children teach Howard about the importance of life is just so badly handled and lengthy scenes of him spying are clearly meant to be thoughtful. All I can see is Jennifer Garner in yet another thankless role, where she has to play a stereotype of a nagging, neurotic wife that is treated by both the script and her husband with absolutely no pity.

Wakefield is strange and unpleasant. In my screening room, about three steady people laughed at Howard’s misogynistic comments (side note: all of them male) but I’m not sure how. If it was meant to be a pastiche, it didn’t successfully get that across. If it was meant to be a reflective piece on middle age, it drowned that out by a hateful lead and inexplicable plot points. Something went wrong with this but one thing’s for sure - it’s not really worth figuring out what that something was.