Nashville has all the elements of a Robert Altman film: a massive ensemble cast of well known actors, a bunch of interconnected subplots under a general overarching story, naturalistic plot development and dialogue, social commentary, sarcasm, humor, sadness, and even a few cameos by celebrities playing themselves. Just like The Player and Prêt-à-Porter much later, Nashville takes on “the industry”—here, country music.
I don’t know much about Grand Ole Opry and I was never a fan of country, but neither matters: Nashville is a hoot to watch. An awful lot of talent is present, but the performances I like best are Gwen Welles as Sueleen Gay, a wannabe star who can’t sing a note to save her life; Shelley Duvall (I didn’t recognize her until the credits rolled) as a skanky roller girl from L.A.; Henry Gibson as an old school George Jones (maybe?) star; Keith Caradine as Tom, a womanizing and opportunistic uber Seventies Kris Kristofferson type; and Lily Tomlin as Linnea, a session backup singer with two deaf sons. Jeff Goldblum has a very minor and silent part—probably one of his earliest. The songs, purportedly written by the actors, are great, arguably the best part of the movie. The ending comes out of left field, which scores big with me for being unpredictable.
Although I enjoyed Nashville, I had some problems with it. Like many Altman films, it’s gratuitously long; two hours and 40 minutes is more than enough time to tell this story. My mind wandered at times, mainly because of the meandering way the action plays out. It’s a lot of work to follow 24 characters. Many of the conversations take place over each other, forcing you to choose which ones to focus on—that gets tiring. The running gag with the BBC reporter (Geraldine Chaplin) goes on too long. I’ve heard some lofty praise for Nashville, some of it warranted. However, it’s not my favorite Altman film by any stretch—if you’re wondering, Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean or the aforementioned The Player are in my humble opinion much more satisfying.
In 1992, the United States Library of Congress deemed Nashville “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).
(Music Box) C+