One of the nicest things about doing interviews at the HitFix studios instead of at a junket is that removing someone from that environment automatically puts them at ease to some degree. When you”re stuck in one room all day, one interview after another being done in the same place, things start to blur together. When someone makes the drive over the studio and we do an interview, they”ve had a chance to clear their head, and they start in a better mood than they do in a junket room.
That was certainly the case with Jeff Nichols, who rolled into our offices last Friday just as his latest film, Midnight Special, was opening in limited release. I”ve been a fan since his first film, Shotgun Stories, but this was my first time sitting down with the writer/director, and it was an easy conversation.
What”s clear when you talk to Nichols is that he”s very thoughtful, and he takes each film he makes very seriously. While I think there are plenty of filmmakers working today who are happy to crank out product, Nichols works from a very personal place. We talked about his process, and it”s interesting to see how each of his movies corresponds to a new phase of his life as a father and an artist. I reviewed Midnight Special and talked about how it feels like an allegory about how we all have to make peace with the idea that our children will have to face this world without us at some point. It”s a beautiful, sad movie, and while it certainly evokes films like The Sugarland Express and Starman, this is no simple homage. Instead, Nichols is working in a familiar form here, but that”s just his starting point. He uses genre as a springboard into something very personal, and that”s what makes his work special right now. So many filmmakers stop as soon as they pick a genre, but for Nichols, that is simply the surface level.
One thing I found interesting in our conversation was just how little he cared about whether people like the ending to Midnight Special. That may sound arrogant, but I think it”s the opposite. Instead of worrying about how people will react, Nichols simply focuses on telling the best version of the story, something that ties his film together thematically and dramatically. It”s a punishing game for filmmakers to try to one-up each other and whatever”s come before, and it leads to films that have these preposterously-scaled third acts full of glowing doodads on rooftops and CGI beasties. While not everyone is going to like the destination in Midnight Special, it”s clearly a carefully crafted conclusion to this very particular story.
I”m excited by what I”ve heard about Loving, the next film from Nichols, and I look forward to seeing his voice continue to grow and evolve in the years ahead.
Midnight Special is playing in limited release now.