Nolte playing against type as a meek empty vessel of 'human yo-yo' passivity manages to escape the red flags and become the film's key ingredient, as an uncharacteristic sounding board for louder types to engage with and amplify the effects of the interpersonal dissonance, and by extension that between us and the film we expect. Kavner's initial conversation with Nolte, for instance, is full of laughs because of how incongruous her unpredictable list of commonalities between states is with his comfort level or capacity to respond. Nolte's visual presence, only aided by our knowledge of his historical roles, is so ill-fitting that the joke it set before the social escalation takes place. This is also one of Brooks' funniest films, even with a chaotically edited script, and perhaps part of the reason I'm strongly drawn to this is in the layered tones -a staple of Brooks already- but here they are nakedly potent than his more consistently fluid stamp. The daughter's initial meltdown is atypically intense, yet there is an aftertaste of pathos to this extended clueless savagery just as there is in Ullman's odd song in the prior scene (or the reverse effect in the Nolte-parenting-ignorance banter that funnels into the daughter's own self-serious number!)
The songs contain just as mixed vibes as the satire-blended-with-drama bits (i.e. the rapid, puzzling "I've been going to the movies since I was six!" lampoon->Big Dramatic Speech->Problem), and it's often difficult to tell what emotion the scene was going for, though a combination of irony and emotional honesty seems in step with the diverse and nebulous mood(s) of this beast. Even Albert Brooks' early number, a confusing and grating bit, reminded me of the unapologetic on-screen singing in At Long Last Love (cue a series of posts shunning me for mentioning this in the same sentence with that masterpiece) and I appreciated the audacity, and at times sheer perversity and irreverence of this picture, which feels more like The Simpsons' brand of humor and general attitude than Brooks' other projects.
I'm not going to pretend that this isn't sloppy or emotionally erratic, but I love it for the same 'structural' reason I love Desplechin's careless fusion of flavors (though this is far less talented or philosophically/psychologically/spiritually dense, and should be compared in broad disorganizational form only). The daughter's attempt to cheer Nolte up with a song transforms into a weird rap, and then a dropkick of an impulsive negative reaction of shame, and a fatherly response that professes love and curated self-actualization out of nowhere, are all over and done with within seconds. Nolte and Richardson's irregular demonstrations of their affections don't match any clear rhythm or comprehensible chemistry according to cinematic rules of narrative or character, but feels like a pre-Punch Drunk Love piece of bizarre romance (with maybe the weirdest scene of intimacy.. ever? Think The Room) And don't even get me started on Kavner's restaurant scene that is preluded by a perplexing instrumental scan and followed by a satirical punchline that summarizes Brooks' thesis with this film- finding the raw truth through means that couldn't be less real. This is a film that constantly surprised me with a mixture of authenticity, cookie-cutter movie theatrics, and an in-between space of opening up the floodgates to the eccentricities of nonsensical human behavior, that doesn't wait around for its audience to handhold or catch up. I fully expect most people to hate this, but it's so different that I can't help but feel refreshed and grateful for Brooks' bold choice to locate a hybrid of honesty and actualized-artifice that will feel foreign to most, if not all, moviegoers and find new magic in the kind of picture that has long been refurbished from a bone-dry well.
I also admired how the film ended with a bit of Broadcast News anticlimax to the core romance, with Nolte looking around to find no Richardson and seeing his daughter as more than enough. I wasn't expecting Brooks to forfeit that pairing, but the final moments draw a pretty mature and humble small gesture between father and daughter, with even the camera taking a gentle backseat. The onion layers peel back to reveal Nolte's process of actively considering his priorities and pondering what fulfillment really means to him, and seeing it in his daughter outside of acute drama. A spiritual connection, if you will.