Nope - Movie Review
A Genre blending, SCI-FI, Horror, Dramady
WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY)
If there were ever a hot writer/director working within the studio system today in feature films, it would have to be Jordan Peele. Ads for his new movie, Nope brag “from Jordan Peele.” Peele won a best screenplay Oscar for 2017′s Get Out. Highly original and packing a real punch, Get Out was a horror film with brains and social conscience. His second film Us successfully created a creepy claustrophobic atmosphere, but it wasn’t nearly as successfully on creating a tightly woven story. Nope, in my opinion, falls somewhere between. On one hand, it is incredibly entertaining and assuredly directed, but it lacks the story cohesion of Get Out.
There is so much going on in Nope, attempting a coherent plot summary seems like a Herculean feat. Detailing the story couldn’t possibly be done without using the word, “meanwhile,” frequently. It goes something like this: OJ Hayward (Daniel Kaluuya) is trying to keep the ranch and animal performing (horses) business he inherited from his late father afloat. His father died mysteriously in “a something is falling form the sky” incident. OJ isn’t exactly user friendly, and not particularly good with the clients, actors, or anyone. However, his charming, go-getting sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) is. Emerald is a fast talking, multi-discipline entrepreneur and what she may lack in credibility, she certainly makes up for with enthusiasm. Their personalities and business style couldn’t be further apart. But they both agree that they need money and need it fast.
Meanwhile, down the road a bit, Ricky Park (Steven Yeun) runs an old-style Western town amusement park, complete with stadium shows. Ricky buys “Lucky” from OJ; a horse that recently screwed up a promotional shoot with celebrity Bonnie Clayton. Clayton is played by veteran, Donna Mills. Park is a former child actor who endured a violent, bizarre trauma, involving a rogue chimpanzee on the set of his sitcom, which still haunts him to this day. But that doesn’t prevent him from monetizing on the deadly past incident. A lone sneaker stained with blood becomes Dorothy’s ruby slippers enshrined in glass. A symbol of the public’s obsession with fame, or in this case infamy.
Meanwhile, there seems to be UFO, or flying beast activity in the skies of rural California, and Emerald and OJ come up with a scheme to get a photograph of the object and sell it for big bucks. To do this, they invest in a lot of surveillance cameras and equipment, delivered, and installed by a Frye’s electronic guy Angel (Brandon Pera), whose wiry, worrisome energy perfectly complements the Heywood siblings in their quest for the “money shot.” The three of them make an odd trio on a mission.
There has been much debate about the meaning of the film and the various McGuffins and red herrings that sometimes lead nowhere. Is it about beasts? Beasts shouldn’t be tamed, and you should never try? Worse than trying to tame them is exploiting them. A recent thesis argues the film is about the dangers of spectacle. Are we trying too hard to “go big?” There are some misleads and the title cards with animals’ names on them designating a new chapter throughout only add to the confusion, instead of shedding light.
For me the film works best when it doesn’t try so hard to be smart. Cryptic threads of meaning in dialogue with heavy symbolism may add intrigue, but not much clarity. Some ideas seem lofty, but other rules seem arbitrary and inane, like “it” cannot eat stringy things; barbed wire, a garland of plastic sale flags, big inflated whirly things; or it dies. Peele is clever, and we know that, but I much prefer the goings on when they lean toward tongue-in-cheek silly apocalyptic 1950′s “monster in the sky” feels. The imagery is great, and the visual puns are a blast. Also enjoyable are the subtle cultural references-”Run, OJ, run!” Kaluuya’s chill and understated performance is a perfect foil to the outrageous going-ons around them. Brilliant, and laugh out loud, is the scene when OJ mumbles the title in reference to something crazy happening.
Writer/Director Peele is enormously talented and has a sharp eye for visual storytelling, but don’t think too much when watching Nope, even though you are clearly being prodded to. Just enjoy the ride.
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