Jordan Peele’s Bad Miracle
Nope is his most ambitious film yet, but also his most disjointed
Wondering is more fun than knowing. People wouldn’t care nearly as much about Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster if they’d been captured in high definition and had their existences definitively proven; much of their appeal lies in the fact that blurry photos allow us to fill in the mental gaps ourselves. Jordan Peele understands this, just as Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott did — neither Jaws nor Alien would have been as scary if they’d revealed more than brief glimpses of their eponymous monsters before the third act. And while Nope is Peele’s most ambitious film yet, it’s also his most disjointed. There was probably no way its many constituent parts — which range from a history lesson on the first moving images ever recorded to a murderous chimpanzee from a ‘90s sitcom — were ever going to fit neatly into a whole, and at times it seems as though Peele isn’t really trying to make them. It always feels like things are just one scene away from truly getting good, but then Peele fades to black just long enough to start a new chapter (complete with needless title card) and stall the narrative momentum he’s been building.
Without saying too much about what actually happens, the result is to Get Out what Signs was to The Sixth Sense: a sci-fi thriller that’s less scary moment to moment than it is in its implications about whether or not we’re alone in the universe and how we might react to that knowledge. (Signs, it must be said, was scarier than this. Signs rules.) Peele sets his enigmatic pieces up masterfully, but they lose some of their power once he fully reveals them and moves them across the board. Still, there’s something brilliant about the title and its own implications. “What’s a bad miracle? They got a word for that?” OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) asks his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) early on. Can you guess her answer?
You could do worse than make a haute-couture double feature of Phantom Thread and Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, two fashion-adjacent films woven together by the indomitable Lesley Manville. An ode to treating yourself when no one else will, the entire movie feels like one of those Downton Abbey episodes in which the downstairs crew goes on a well-deserved outing — which is to say, charming and effervescent if also a little slight. About a London maid who uses her long-delayed war-widow pension to visit the City of Lights and buy a Dior gown for the simple reason that she really, really wants one, it’s also a little Mary Poppins-like in its exploration of Mrs. Harris’ effect on those around her. So fairy-tale nice is her own story that the filmmakers apparently felt compelled to create drama in the form of two subplots, one concerning the House of Dior’s uncertain financial straits and the other about a lovesick accountant pining for the company’s most vivacious model. Neither succeeds in adding true narrative stakes to the goings on, but at least the latter occasions two different scenes about Sartre’s concept of bad faith. And thanks to one of France’s famous strikes, the streets are lined with garbage — an unsubtle juxtaposition if not an ineffective one — as our heroine returns to the fashion house for her many fittings over the course of a weeklong visit. She retains a fairy-godmother aura throughout all of it, charming everyone she meets and bringing out their best selves through acts of kindness that are eventually returned in a finale as heartwarming as it is implausible. If this inspires a few eye rolls, it’s nothing compared to how many smiles it elicits.