Director Robert Altman impressed me with this two earlier directorial efforts M.A.S.H and McCabe and Mrs. Miller, but I believe he really comes into his own with 1975’s Nashville. The way he directed his movie and the way he made it a very intelligent movie with many important themes but can be understood by the general public is just outstanding. However, if you don’t keep up with the movie, you can be sure to get lost in the overload of information Altman throws at you. On paper, the film may seem like a mess but it’s really not. The film really does not have an overall plot, but it has interwoven segments that are related with each other and I’ll discuss a little bit later on. This film is full of unique performances from an unusually large cast. It’s not unusual that there are many characters, but how many major characters there are. There are approximately 25 major speaking roles, and that has to be some sort of record. But all the performances are wonderful and unique and you feel for each character in the country music setting of Nashville.
So what exactly is this film about? Well, that’s really hard to pinpoint as there is no one big linear plotline. It is essentially about a group of people living life in Nashville during a political-happy time (kind of reminds me of the current 2016 political race). But let’s break down the plot into the little segments. We have Barbara Jean (Ronee Blackley) who is the current reigning country queen of Nashville, but health problems is causing her to fall apart and she also later becomes a symbol for political assassination. Then we have Delbert (Ned Beatty) and Linnea Reese (Lily Tomlin) who live a rather sad life because of a failing marriage and trying to take care of two deaf children. Delbert is involved in a politics as he is trying to bring politics and country music together. Then we have a British journalist named Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) who decides to get into the thick of events within the Nashville scene. As the famed movie critic Roger Ebert paraphrases what this movie is about, it’s many things. A musical, a docudrama about life in Nashville, a political story that was influenced by events like the Watergate scandal, and it is also a satire about country music.
With such a large ensemble, I was surprised how much Altman was able to get from all of his characters. They were superbly written and the performances were genuine. Many of the characters do their own singing, and you can tell they are not professional singers. While the voices may not be the best ones ever, I loved the raw, edgy sound with added to the realism of the performances. The film is not composed of big stars (at the time or even by today’s standards), but they often hit the spot. I loved Ronee Blackley’s performance as the country queen, Barbara Jean. Her singing is decent, but she brings a sensitive side to her character and she is involved in a big political showdown at the end of the movie. She reminds me of a similar real-life country singer, Loretta Lynn. Lily Tomlin delivered one heck of a impressive performance as the mother of two deaf children. I relate to her character because I suffer from partial deafness myself and I understand her pains. She brings such vulnerability to her character. Ned Beatty does a good job in playing the asshole husband who doesn’t care about his family but only about his job. We have very early performances from future stars from the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Scott Glenn, and Keith Carradine (who was impressive as a rock singer). Henry Gibson does a solid job as another famous country star named Haven Hamilton (and did have a good voice).
So there were many aspects to the plot I thoroughly enjoyed. I enjoyed the rather brutal satire on country music which gathered criticism from people within this industry. But my favorite was the political aspect of the movie. Maybe its because history and politics go hand in hand or maybe we are living in a political-happy environment at current time, but I feel like the politics aspect hold up strongly. I like the random scenes where we have this political party in support of a candidate named Hal Philip Walker whom we never meet, but his presence is always known. His politics and the country stars end up clashing in the end for a very powerful ending.
Overall, I really enjoyed Nashville. I don’t think it’s good of a masterpiece of Altman’s earlier McCabe and Mrs. Miller but this is his more mainstream effort. But use that word “mainstream” lightly because Altman brings his complicated style of directing to this movie. His use of the actors and his political and social commentary is widely shown throughout the film. As I say for most of Altman’s films, they are not for everyone. This film has excellent performances from everyone with my favorite performance coming from Lily Tomlin. There is an hour of music recorded for the film and despite the inexperience of the singers, the music mostly works with the film. Nominated for 5 Oscars and a 9 Golden Globes (a record that still holds today), Nashville is a solid work of filmmaking.
My Grade: A-