Stephen M’s review published on Letterboxd:
I went into this with no expectations. I'd never seen a Charlie Kaufman film before and hadn't not read the book it was based on. All I knew is that everyone was talking about it on Letterboxd.
I wound up not understanding a lot of it but was totally caught up in its themes of memory, hopes, disappointments, loneliness and loss. By the end, "some" of it made sense. But it was only after reading viewers' and critics' reviews afterwards on IMDB that I fully understood the meaning - which was much more about the male lead Jake than the unnamed female lead, whom I initially saw as the narrator and the focus. Kaufman could have done a better job throughout at making it less confusing and apparently chose not to.
But what a film! Creepy elements, dreamlike elements, mixing up of the past and the present, the mysterious janitor who seems initially to have no connection to the plot, the excellent design and cinematography. And the performances were outstanding. Especially Jessie Buckley who plays the Young Woman. I was initially confused why she was with Jake (Jesse Plemons) who was awkward and nerdy. It's gradually revealed he is deeply troubled and when you meet his parents - played by David Thewlis and Toni Collette - you can certainly see why. The family of three embodies another theme of the film - damaged people who are very aware of their deficiencies but desperately hold onto hope.
Having recently moved from a big city to a rural farming community in upstate New York, I loved the setting - bleak, stuck in the past yet existing in the present, and the hardscrabble existence of the families that didn't leave. And the snow! It's also great to see Netflix take on projects that are less formulaic and crowd-pleasers, and include films like this that are creative and make one think. So even without a roadmap, I very much enjoyed this.