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The Films of Alexander Payne

Citizen Ruth

Election (July 17/06)

Election, based on the book by Tom Perrotta, casts Matthew Broderick as Jim McAllister, a high school teacher who finds himself at the center of a nationwide scandal after rigging an election in favor of a likeable jock (Chris Klein) over a relentless overachiever (Reese Witherspoon). Though it adopts a distinctly smug tone early on, Election eventually becomes a surprisingly compelling piece of work - something that's due in no small part to filmmaker Alexander Payne's confident, appropriately stylish directorial choices. Payne manages to maintain a vibe of authenticity despite the inclusion of some seriously absurd elements, a feeling that's cemented by the unnaturally effective performances (Broderick is especially good here). It's consequently not difficult to see why Election is now considered a classic high school comedy, although the presence of several decidedly adult themes (ie lesbianism, adultery, etc) ensures that viewers over a certain age will probably get a whole lot more out of the film than teens.

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About Schmidt

Sideways & The Descendants

Click here and here for reviews.

Nebraska (November 24/13)

Directed by Alexander Payne and written by Bob Nelson, Nebraska details the road trip that ensues after a thirtysomething stereo salesman (Will Forte's David Grant) agrees to accompany his father (Bruce Dern's Woody) to the titular locale - where the older man believes he will be able to collect a $1 million sweepstakes prize. It's clear immediately that Payne is going for a nostalgic, unabashedly old-school feel, with the movie's black-and-white cinematography merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of its far-from-modern sensibilities - as Nebraska progresses at a seriously deliberate pace and, for the most part, emphasizes small, character-based moments over plot. The almost excessively subdued atmosphere prevents Nebraska from becoming anything more than a passable endeavor, and yet it's just as clear that the movie benefits substantially from its pervasively easy-going atmosphere and smattering of Oscar-worthy performances - with, of course, Dern's masterful turn as the central character remaining a consistent highlight. (It's worth noting, too, that Forte does a surprisingly good job in a rare dramatic role.) The movie's shambling, episodic structure ensures that certain sequences fare much better than others, and it's ultimately clear that Nebraska is at its best when focused on the father/son dynamic between Dern and Forte's respective characters - with the heartfelt authenticity of such moments generally compensating for the movie's various deficiencies. The end result is a typically uneven effort from director Payne, with the movie's lackluster nature especially disappointing given its proliferation of positive attributes.

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Downsizing (January 18/18)

A thoroughly bizarre misfire, Downsizing follows Matt Damon's Paul Safranek as he and his wife (Kristen Wiig's Audrey) agree to shrink themselves down to five inches and live in a special community just for miniaturized humans - with problems ensuing as Paul discovers that living tiny isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's an almost exceptionally high-concept premise that is, at the outset, employed to agreeable effect by filmmaker Alexander Payne, as the director, working from a script cowritten with Jim Taylor, delivers a briskly-paced opening stretch that's rife with uncommonly compelling elements - including a typically engaging turn by Damon and a proliferation of sci-fi-themed ideas and interludes. (The shrinking sequence, for example, is handled incredibly well and is nothing short of fascinating.) Downsizing's compulsively watchable vibe persists right up until Damon's character relocates to the aforementioned special community, after which point the movie begins to slowly-but-surely transform into a curiously by-the-numbers drama - as Payne emphasizes Paul's rather tedious transformation into a socially-aware, environmentally-consciousindividual. It's a somewhat generic storyline that's compounded by the presence of a seriously annoying supporting character named Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau, delivering one of 2017's most grating performances), with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by a stagnant, meandering atmosphere and aggressively overlong running time (ie much of the film's midsection consists of padded-out and entirely needless sequences). By the time the overtly ill-advised final stretch rolls around, Downsizing has firmly established itself as a misbegotten endeavor that stands as an obvious low point for the otherwise reliable Payne.

out of

© David Nusair