Nobel Son, which has been sitting on the shelf for about three years, and was unceremoniously dumped over the weekend without any marketing or press, is not just over the top; it’s over the top of over the top. In fact, if you climbed up on top of over to top’s over the top, you’d still have to climb another 50 flights of stairs to truly appreciate how over the top Nobel Son is.
It’s wicked over the top.
It’s also not very good — the sort of movie that tries so hard you feel a little sorry for it. Like, “Awwww. You put a lot of thought into it, Mr. Writer-Director Man. I feel kind of bad that I don’t like it very much. I’d like my money back, but I’ll give you a hug if you’d like.” It’s self-congratulatory, yet so bad that it refuses its own handshake. I’ll grant Mr. Writer-Director man, Randall Miller (Bottle Shock, Marilyn Hotchkiss Dancing & Charm School) this much, however: It’s got a very well constructed narrative. It’s beyond preposterous, kind of pointless, there are about 17 too many twists, and the payoff is pretty unsatisfying, but, there are no gaps in the connective threads. It’s impressive, in fact, to make a movie that has so many plot twists and yet manages to do so without jumping through at least a few plot holes. But Randall Miller lays it all out, in line, in a way that makes mechanical sense. The motivations defy logic, of course, and the loyalties shift for no apparent reason, but the actual sequences of events are not unsound.
Nobel Son appears to be one thing initially — a black comedy about a truly dysfunctional academic family — and turns into something else all together: An overlong, over-the top, convoluted and twist-heavy heist film. It’s the sort of film that David Mamet would’ve written in junior high — it’s got the mechanics all worked out; it’s the character development and the dialogue that lack.
Alan Rickman plays Eli Michaelson, an egotistical, wind-baggy, philandering chemistry professor. His son, Barkley (Bryan Greenburg) an aimless PhD. student in cannibalism and Gameboy, loathes his father. His mother and Eli’s wife, Sarah (Mary Steenburgen) isn’t such a fan, either. Eli wins the Nobel Prize, the sort of ego-tripping award that only adds to his insufferableness. On the morning he and his family are set to go to Stockholm to accept the award, however, Barkley is kidnapped by his unknown, psychopathic half-brother (Shawn Hatosy) after spending the night with the poet, City Hall (Eliza Dushku). (Yes. Her name is City Hall). A ransom situation unspools, a thumb is cut off, and the gears to one tedious, suspense-less crime caper are set in motion.
There are a couple of amusing sequences in Nobel Son, particularly if you’re a fan of Mini Coopers. Alan Rickman, as always, is fun to watch — no one does insufferable asshole as well as he does. Steenburgen is sweet and effective, Bill Pullman (who plays a detective) is wasted, Bryan Greenburg and Shawn Hatosy are seriously miscast, and Eliza Dushku just hangs around as crazy eye candy.
And indeed, Nobel Son is not a movie you despise while you’re watching it; it’s one where the hate sort of grows on you after you leave the theater and realize what a miserable waste of time it all was. It is, in fact, what you might expect from an art-film/documentary director who tries to invade Guy Ritchie’s territory. At this point, Guy Ritchie already holds the position of poor man’s Guy Ritchie, so Randall Miller will just have to hold his goddamn bag.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives withi his wife and son in Portland, Maine You can reach him via email, or leave a comment below.
Nobel Son / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | December 9, 2008 | Comments ()