Alexander Payne has made a successful career out of losers. Whether it’s Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) in “Election,” Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) in “About Schmidt,” Miles Raymond (Paul Giamatti) in “Sideways,” Matt King (George Clooney) in “The Descendents” or Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) in “Nebraska,” the writer/director has crafted a dependable niche focusing on the less-than-glamorous mid- to late periods of hard-working schlubs, guys who want nothing more than validation for their hard-wrought lives. The indie favorite has basically cracked it down to a science at this point — as explored in the appropriately titled “Alexander Payne: The Science of Failure,” the first video essay from A Thousand Words.
There are many forms of failure found in Payne’s films, from professional to parental, but the most common ineptitude stems from martial discourse. Through these personal struggles, Payne finds his characters in deep existential crisis and, often, on the verge of a mental breakdown. Because of this emotional re-examination, these characters find themselves at a point of progression, for better or for worse, and that’s where the best Payne films find their humor and poignancy. Their failure, then, becomes their greatest narrative virtue, and it is often what makes Payne’s character studies more intimate, soul-searching and human as a result.
Whether or not Payne’s latest, the currently filming “Downsizing,” will follow in the same footsteps as his previous movies, we’ll have to wait and see, but this video essay is great look back at where he’s been so far. [via No Film School]