Wakefield (film)

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Wakefield poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robin Swicord
Produced by
Written by Robin Swicord
Based on Wakefield
by E. L. Doctorow
Music by Aaron Zigman
Cinematography Andrei Bowden-Schwartz
Edited by Matt Maddox
Mockingbird Pictures
Distributed by IFC Films
Release date
  • September 2, 2016 (2016-09-02) (Telluride)
  • May 19, 2017 (2017-05-19) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $755,915[1][2]

Wakefield is a 2016 American drama film directed and written by Robin Swicord, based on the short story of same name by E. L. Doctorow.[3] (Doctorow's story, in turn, was inspired by the 1835 story of the same title by Nathaniel Hawthorne.) The film stars Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner. Principal photography began on November 30, 2015, in Pasadena, California.

The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2016. It was released in a limited release on May 19, 2017.


The story is told from the point of view of Howard Wakefield, through narration that reveals his evolving emotional state. A successful attorney in New York City, he is unhappy in his marriage of 15 years to Diana, a beautiful art curator and former dancer. They used to use flirtation with other people to add excitement to their sex life, but she soon begins to resent it. One night, Howard returns home late from his commute by train and is distracted by a raccoon he sees entering his garage, which is detached from the house. He chases the raccoon into the garage's attic, where he realizes he has a perfect view into his home, where his wife and two daughters, Taylor and Giselle, are eating dinner. He ignores calls from his wife and is amused at her clear annoyance, but is insulted when she angrily throws his plate of dinner away instead of saving it for him. To avoid a fight, he decides to wait a bit to go into the house, but he ends up falling asleep.

The next morning, Howard realizes Diana will never believe his story of spending the night in the garage and will insist he was having an affair, so he plans to wait for her to leave for work before going in. Instead, he is shocked when, after finding his car still in the garage, she calls the police to report him missing. Howard feels bad when he sees Diana cry, but before he can go inside, his overbearing mother-in-law, Babs, shows up to comfort her. Babs appears to be saying that Howard has run off while Diana apparently defends him, showing her there is no evidence he has taken any money. Diana then leaves for work and Howard finally goes inside and showers, planning to just deal with the fallout of his absence, before he starts resenting the idea that his wife would still go to work after his disappearance. It then dawns on him that his disappearance is probably a relief to her, and that she probably thinks that she married the wrong man. He cleans up any evidence that he was inside the house, grabs some food from the pantry and returns to the garage.

Howard is overjoyed with abandoning all his responsibilities and amused that people would surely suspect his wife's involvement in his disappearance, just as he is amused at seeing her tackle the chores that used to be his responsibility. He feels unshackled and free as he spends his time doing puzzles, reading and observing his family and their neighbors. He also happily realizes that he is seeing more of his daughters' lives than he did before. For the first few days, he continues to sneak food and amenities from his house. He soon realizes that he no longer cares about having clients and being freshly showered and shaved, and vows not to take anything from his old life or spend the money he has in his wallet. He begins foraging each night through the trash and showers in the backyard bathroom built by his neighbor, Dr. Sondervan, who runs a small home for mentally disabled youth.

As months go by and he grows a beard and long hair, Howard is free to walk about town during the day, where people dismiss him as homeless. The only people who discover his presence are Herbert and Emily, two of Dr. Sondervan's residents, who follow him back to the attic one day. He reflects on the beginning of his relationship with Diana, whom he met when she was dating his best friend Dirk Morrison, an extremely competitive Wall Street trader. Through manipulation and dishonesty, Howard managed to take Diana away from Dirk, and as he thinks back, Howard wonders if he ever truly loved her. Nevertheless, he realizes that by simply disappearing, he has the upper hand in controlling her love life. If he had just divorced her, she would be free to date other men, but while he is missing under mysterious circumstances, she can't easily move on to another man.

As summer turns into fall, Howard no longer basks in his freedom but instead feels like he has become a prisoner of his choices. He has an epiphany and realizes that the old Howard had been a selfish, jealous and resentful husband and father, who made himself out to be a victim. While he feels happy to be free from himself, he also feels that his family is happier without him. He also realizes that he has never loved Diana more and one day, he walks out onto the sidewalk, but Diana doesn't recognize him.

Diana appears to be developing a romantic relationship, and Howard is stunned when he sees it is with Dirk Morrison. Howard surmises that Dirk would have probably told Diana the lies he had said that broke them up years ago. He decides to give Diana an honest chance this time to pick with whom she wants to be. After getting himself cleaned up and buying a new suit, Howard works up the courage to walk back into his house. As he sees his wife and daughters decorating the Christmas tree, he envisions them being overjoyed at his return, and also envisions a second scenario in which they respond with horror. He pauses, and then comes in through the front door and announces, "I'm home."


  • Bryan Cranston as Howard Wakefield[4]
  • Jennifer Garner as Diana Wakefield[5]
  • Beverly D'Angelo as Babs, Diana's mother
  • Jason O'Mara as Dirk Morrison, Howard's former friend and Diana's ex-boyfriend
  • Ian Anthony Dale as Ben Jacobs, an attorney at Howard's firm
  • Alexander Zale as Dr. Sondervan, the Wakefields' next-door neighbor
  • Pippa Bennett-Warner as Emily, mentally disabled ward of Dr. Sondervan
  • Isaac Leyva as Herbert, mentally disabled ward of Dr. Sondervan.
  • Ellery Sprayberry as Giselle Wakefield, Howard and Diana's teen daughter
  • Victoria Bruno as Taylor Wakefield, Howard and Diana's teen daughter


On November 11, 2015, it was announced that Robin Swicord would direct a drama film based on the short story Wakefield by E. L. Doctorow, after the short story of the same title by Nathaniel Hawthorne.[4] Bonnie Curtis and Julie Lynn would produce the film through Mockingbird Pictures, along with Elliott Webb as co-producer.[4] Swicord had written the screenplay after meeting with Doctorow and discussing her ideas on how to present the story on film. She said, "I had to really interrogate the story before I ever got up the courage to meet with Doctorow, because I knew he was going to want to know what kind of movie this was going to be. I met him and we had great conversations. We emailed and talked on the phone, and started the process of getting him to trust that we had all our ducks in a row."[6]

Principal photography on the film began on November 30, 2015, in Pasadena, California,[5][7] which ended on January 8, 2016.[8]


The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on September 2, 2016.[9] It went onto screen at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 2016.[10] Shortly after, IFC Films acquired distribution rights to the film and set the film for a May 19, 2017 limited release. The movie has earned $262,566 at the North America box office as of July 20, 2017.[11]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 75% based on 63 reviews, with an average rating of 6.4/10 on IMDB.[12] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 62 out of 100, based on 24 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]

Professional and nonprofessional critics alike tend to have polarized views of the film. Many praise it highly, while others fault it for portraying an unlikable character or ending on the ambiguous note that Doctorow struck in his story. On RogerEbert.com, critic Glenn Kenny said Swicord "has made a smart, intriguing, sometimes provocative and often oddly moving picture of Wakefield," which he called "kind of a wonder."[14]


  1. ^ "Wakefield". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 6, 2017. 
  2. ^ "Wakefield". The Numbers. Retrieved September 16, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Wakefield" (short story), The New Yorker, January 14, 2008
  4. ^ a b c McNary, Dave (November 11, 2015). "Bryan Cranston Starring in Drama 'Wakefield'". variety.com. Retrieved December 1, 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Evry, Max (December 1, 2015). "Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner on the Set of Wakefield". comingsoon.net. Retrieved December 1, 2015. 
  6. ^ McKittrick, Christopher (May 24, 2017). "Filmmaking is a Marathon: Robin Swicord on Wakefield". Creative Screenwriting. 
  7. ^ "A bearded and disheveled Bryan Cranston is almost unrecognisable as he films Wakefield with Jennifer Garner in LA". dailymail.co.uk. December 1, 2015. Retrieved December 1, 2015. 
  8. ^ "On the Set for 1/8/16: Robert Pattinson Starts on the Feature, 'Good Time' While Michael Fassbender & Marion Cotillard Wrap 'Assassin's Creed'". SSN Insider. January 8, 2016. Retrieved January 9, 2016. 
  9. ^ Hammond, Pete (September 1, 2016). "Telluride Film Festival Lineup: 'Sully', 'La La Land', 'Arrival', 'Bleed For This' & More". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved March 26, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Wakefield". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved March 26, 2017. 
  11. ^ "'Wakefield'". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 6, 2017. 
  12. ^ "Wakefield", Rotten Tomatoes, retrieved 2017-07-30 
  13. ^ "Wakefield", Metacritic, retrieved 2017-05-17 
  14. ^ "'Wakefield'". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved July 30, 2017. 

External links[edit]