Monday, August 17, 2009

Auteur Watch - Alex(ander) Payne

Awright! Time for Tyler Perry's House of Alexander Payne! You know, sometimes directors, or writer/directors especially, stake out certain geographical areas of the country. The Coens have Minnesota, sort of. The Farrellys have Rhode Island. John Hughes had Chicago. M. Night Shyamalan has Philadelphia. Barry Levinson has Baltimore. Scorsese and Woody Allen have New York. I know I'm leaving some out, but you get the idea.
Anyway, so what does that leave? Middle America. That's where Alexander Payne comes in. Born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1961, he tries to leave phoney-baloney L.A. behind as often as he can and bring a little dirty movie money to his cash-strapped state, and filming the stories of Nebraska. Like his Nebraska trilogy: Citizen Ruth, Election and About Schmidt.
But, like Cameron Crowe's love affair with Seattle, all good things have to eventually come to an end. And like Jerry Maguire, Payne scored a critical and a modest financial success with Sideways. Yes, combining his love of wine with his experience working on the late-night cable fare, a series called Inside Out, Payne & company were showered with Oscar noms left and right for this Seinfeld-esque bawdy romp through wine country... somewhere in California. But just like Gods and Monsters, the statuette ended up going to directorial management, as opposed to rewarding the labour of the actors and... producers and directors involved.
So, how about it? What is Payne's favorite decade of his career? Was it the 80s, where the fall of disco gave way to the rise of MTV, hair metal, and Sally Cruikshank-esque stylistics in all forms of art? Or was it the 90s, with its ... whatever the hell the 90s was about? The rise of Michael Kuhn and independent cinema? The uneasy blending of hippie culture and multinational business conglomerates? Or maybe the 2000s, when every film makes some kind of veiled reference to the Iraq War? If I had to guess, I'd say the 2000s, when all that hard work paid off with the screenwriting Oscar for Sideways. Even though Payne doesn't seem like that kind of guy, so obsessed with the now. He'd probably say the 90s, when the critical acclaim first started rolling in, and he could lay claim to 'discovering' Reese Witherspoon.
So, what does the future hold for Mr. Payne? Well, with an arrondissement of Paris, je t'aime under his belt, these are clearly the emeritus years, when film students will flock to his side, asking about the old days. And he's heading back into TV territory with something called Hung... oh, right. HBO. I guess they wouldn't have something like that on NBC... yet. Maybe Will Arnett's working on such a thing. Plus, there's that successful producing career, no doubt funded by the success of Sideways. And, like P.T. Anderson, he ventured into Adam Sandler territory with that whole Chuck and Larry thing... how soon they forget. Even after that delightful comedy, America STILL hates gay marriage. Oh, but he's far from out of the silver screen game. He's got something coming up called... Fork in the Road. Er, I hate to play second baseman driving in the back seat like an albatross, but... Jim Kouf's already got A Fork in the Road coming up.
And I'm pretty sure he's got the right of way. Oh, with National Treasure 2 on the resumé? Definitely. Not that you're not a treasure as well, Payne... Payne's also got his biopic coming up. David Strathairn is going to play Alexander Payne. And I gotta go...

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