A good filmmaker knows when it’s time to leave his comfort zone, and Alexander Payne, four years after his last film, “Nebraska” (2013), must have figured that he’d taken the amblin’-road-movie-that’s-really-a-plunge-into-the-kooky-heart-of-Middle-America in about as many directions as he could.
It’s a radical way to cut down on the consumption of the earth’s resources, but the hook, for those who volunteer, is that they’ll live like suburban royalty.
It all adds up to a film that risks, at times, becoming a little too much, yet Payne, working from a script he co-wrote with his regular partner, Jim Taylor, has made that rare thing: a ticklish and resonant crowd-pleaser for grown-ups.
The result should prove to be a major draw at the box office and a leading awards contender.
When Paul wakes up in his hospital bed, the nurse asks if he’d like a snack, and she produces a package of two giant Premium Saltine crackers — the hospital’s slightly ominous idea of a sick joke.
(The food is, in fact, all appropriately sized.) But Paul, it turns out, has a much darker shock in store.
It’s also the most whimsically outlandish film of Payne’s career, though that doesn’t mean it’s made with anything less than his usual highly thought-out and controlled master-craftsman bravura.