This is director Alexander Payne’s best work since Election. (Yes, I do mean to say it’s better than Sideways and The Descendants and About Schmidt – all of which I loved, by the way.) The pace is relaxed and comfy, and yet just a little stilted, mirroring the main character’s arthritic gait. The script uses that to hilarious effect, with a number of jokes and situations that could only work with the slower rhythm. The first half is a very good, very funny movie, and about halfway through it becomes a great film.
The black and white photography is beautiful, and the score memorable and a perfect fit. Payne seems to be nodding slightly at the Coen Bros. style of bruised character study – not too far off from his own usual bread and butter, but refreshingly less acerbic. Woody is the heart and soul of the film. It’s very personality is his personality, and Dern gives an a hell of a performance. But perhaps my favorite and most fun character is that of his wife, played by June Squibb. She’s an unfiltered loud-mouth who’s put up with Woody’s shit for a lifetime, but she’s also a surprisingly strong and confident no-nonsense gal, and one of the few people who actually has a clear head on her shoulders.
I don’t yet know how my Top 10 for the year is going to play out, but I have a strong suspicion this will be a big part of it.