Nobody's Fool ★★★★½

I could be wrong, but in my experience there are only a rare amount of movies out there that know exactly what they're doing with the confidence of a picture like Robert Benton's "Nobody's Fool". As a slice-of-life small town drama, it's amazingly lived-in and detail-oriented yet accessible and charming, avoiding excessive drama and saccharine sentimentality and even exaggerated method realism to be a near-perfect tonal balance between comedy and drama, the twin pillars of fictional entertainment. It just presents these people's intersecting lives, but injects it with humor and pathos. Y'know, the way tons of movies purport to, yet at which most fail. Every character here is some kind of smart-ass, yet the dialogue doesn't sound over-written or smug. There are family scars and our protagonist is down on his luck, yet it doesn't lead to the expected catharses or redemption victories. Character arcs, conflicts, and assorted subplots pay off with sublime, understated grace (the movie itself ends so softly and relaxingly it's like it's tucking you into bed and kissing your forehead; that actually sounds somewhat insulting, but I mean it as high compliment).

I don't think I've ever enjoyed Paul Newman on screen as much as I have in this, and how often do you get to see Melanie Griffith and Bruce Willis in supporting roles (especially back during their peak years), AND in a credible movie that respects their intelligence and gives them dynamic material to work with? The polysemous individual relationships that Newman conducts with each of them are highlights of the whole thing.

In short, the movie is fresh all around. It sparks and glows, avoids the missteps inherent to its kind, brims with casual wisdom and laughter. It's one of those that's so damn good it reminds you why you love watching movies in the first place. Would make a seamless companion piece with Curtis Hanson's "Wonder Boys".

*thanks Dave for finally getting me to see this!

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