Sunday May 26th 2013
Alexander Payne truly is the Benjamin Button of American indie filmmakers, rapidly declining in maturity as the years (and Best Adapted Screenplay Oscars) pile up. A decade and a half ago, he was capable of Election. Now, aged 52, the best he can manage is Nebraska, a tangle of film school clichés, rampant condescension and woe-is-me, middle-aged-white-guy-problems so juvenile it would blot even a first-time filmmaker’s copybook.
Chief amongst the film’s miscalculations is the casting of SNL alumnus Will Forte in a lead role. According to Wikipedia, Casey Affleck, Paul Rudd and Bryan Cranston all auditioned for the part at one time or another, but — for reasons beyond human understanding — Payne plumped for MacGruber.
Forte has always been anathema to me. With each throwaway supporting role (in wank like The Watch, Rock of Ages and That’s My Boy) he seems to bring with him a sort of ‘comedy malice’ that instantly finds its way beneath my skin. Nonetheless he finds consistent favour with a whole mess of talented individuals, who seem more than happy to saddle their otherwise fine creations with his presence. (I dare you not to cringe as he systematically destroys the last ounce of audience goodwill towards Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.) Whatever Forte’s schtick is, it’s lost on me.
In Nebraska, he spares us the routine, instead reining things in to play a reticent electronics salesman eager to do right by his elderly father. The underwhelming result is somehow even more irritating than his pantomime act. Simple lines are delivered with somersault inflections, while his facial expressions do their best to contradict every word that escapes his mouth. And yet, the party line in Cannes earlier this week was that Forte and co-star Bruce Dern were beyond reproach, so my misgivings are clearly far from universal.
I can only assume that I must have some kind of profound beef with Forte, lodged deep within my subconscious. If you can help me undo this prejudice, please get in touch via the usual address.