NEW YORK — Since it premiered at the
But as can happen with movies at Cannes, particularly American ones, those reactions often don’t hold up. The movie drew raves in its sneak screening at the Telluride Film Festival over
The black-and-white film focuses on a trip that David Grant (
June Squibb, who had a part in Payne's "About Schmidt," stars as Woody's hilariously exasperated wife, with an assortment of character actors colorfully filling out the Grants' extended family and the small-town Midwest, where time seems to have stood still.
Fittingly for Dern, it's a coming-home movie, though many of the truths are actually learned and seen through through the eyes of David, who sometimes seems to be the only rational person around for a country mile.
The movie is on its face a tough sell — a black-and-white film with older character actors (Dern and Squibb) and a performer (Forte) known chiefly for comedic characters on the likes of "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock," all told at a languorous pace. But it's also highly irresistible, and though the comedy and sense of place are very specific, it comes with a kind of familial truthfulness that will resonate widely.
"Even though my family is nothing like the family in the movie, it seemed very relatable," Forte said.
He was speaking at a news conference with Payne, Squibb and Dern after the movie played for media on Tuesday afternoon.
At that gathering, the film's comeback back story was on display in a session that foreshadowed the tale that will be told often in the coming season. Dern won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival, a triumphant return in an up-and-down career that hasn't seen him have a lead role in a major film in three decades.
"When I got this script, I said this is what I got into the business to do. And I haven't been able to do it very often in 55 years," the actor said Tuesday.
With the shuffle (injuries from his endurance-running hobby have taken their tolls) and the vocalizations of the character he plays, Dern radiated experience, as well as film history, the kind that a certain type of Oscar voter will doubtless adore. Dern is one of the few actors working today who can say things like "I began awhile ago with Mr. Kazan" and have it be taken totally seriously.
He also told a funny story about legendary New Hollywood director Bob Rafelson making him and
Squibb — whose cutting comic timing in the movie is one of its many selling points — was similarly willing to go to the I'm-a-veteran well. "I recognized I am lucky in terms of someone my age being able to have this role," she said. "We sometimes have laws 'you can't do this, you can't do that.' And they're always meant to be broken."
Patience is a theme in the film, both in how characters wait a long time for their moment and in the pacing of the story. It also applied to the director, who read Bob Nelson’s script a decade ago but decided to wait until it — and he — were ready. “I didn't want to follow 'Sideways' with another road trip movie,” he said of his 2004
How Payne works to achieve his subtle shades of humanity will be a part of the film's promotional story as it rolls out. At the news conference, Dern said there was a simple technique.
"He's so natural and so insistent on reality," Dern said. "In every scene or so he surrounds you with two or three non-actors and you can't [over]perform in front of the —"
Interjected Forte: "I would like to stop being referred to as a non-actor."
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