August 3rd, 2009

NASHVILLE (1975) ** ½

Robert Altman is a director that I have a love-hate relationship with.  In nearly all of his films he uses more or less the same approach.  He gets a bunch of oddball characters together and puts them in a central location and lets them run wild.  They usually suffer from verbal diarrhea and ramble all over the place, continuously overlapping one another while fighting to be heard in a sea of stream-of-consciousness dialogue.  This approach works in good films like The Player, MASH, and Short Cuts where there is a strong underlying story to tie everything together.  In lesser Altman movies like Prairie Home Companion, California Split, and Nashville, there is no real “plot” to hang the movie on so the characters just ramble on and on without any real consequence.


I know some people will be up in arms at me for labeling Nashville a “lesser” Altman movie because most consider it to be his quintessential film.  To me though, the movie is more or less the same old shit played out over and over again except in different locations.  In all my reviews I try to give a concise plot description but that doesn’t apply to Nashville.  Basically people just hang around an airport and gab for twenty minutes, then there’s an accident on the freeway so people get out of their cars and gab some more before going off to various concerts and musical venues to gab for a bit longer.  Maybe I just don’t get it.


The music in the movie is a mixed bag.  I wasn’t much on the more “real” music but some of the tongue-in-cheek songs were pretty funny.  (I dug the one Henry Gibson song about the guy not cheating on his wife because of “the kids”.)  These songs walk the line (pardon the pun) between parody and the real thing and for the most part are a hoot.  The other shit like the Oscar winning “I’m Easy” aren’t nearly as good.


The performances are all over the place but I guess that’s to be expected since their characters are all over the place too.  Lily Tomlin is probably the best one in the cast as the mother of two deaf sons who bones the womanizing Keith Carradine.  I also liked Ronee (A Nightmare on Elm Street) Blakely as the idiot country singer who got assassinated. 


Speaking of assassinations, the final scene is easily the best part of the movie.  The way Barbara Harris rallies everyone together for a song after Blakely gets gunned down is pretty moving stuff.  If Altman had told a more cohesive story populated with characters I actually gave two turds about, Nashville would’ve been the classic it’s supposed to have been.  As it is, the flick is nearly three hours of cuckoo characters shuffling around the titular city, singing mediocre songs and not doing much of nothing.  The film certainly gets better as it goes along and the final moments are borderline brilliant but ultimately it’s too little too late.