Jordan Peele’s Nope is everything movie fans have come to expect from him.
The director’s third feature film is over the top, odd in the best ways, terrifying, smart, original, and captivating, as well as perfectly cast. The film also follows the trend of Peele’s mysterious films continuously summoning audiences to theaters in an era where Marvel, franchises, and reboots rule the box office. Nope opened with $44 million on its opening weekend, making it the best for an original film opening since Peele’s Us, which made $71.1 million in April 2019.
The director knows that people are thirsty to be entertained, while others want to be stimulated. That’s why he made Nope a spectacle that is also injected with thoughtful commentary and symbolism that will feed the curious minds who love to dissect his films. Peele’s casting choices are also one of his greatest strengths as a filmmaker and that was reinforced by having Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as his leads in his third directorial project.
The sci-fi thriller’s storyline is about siblings OJ Haywood (Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Palmer), who have been Hollywood horse trainers since they were children. The film picks up six months after their dad’s bizarre death and OJ is the one living and working full time at the ranch, while his sister pursues other paths like acting, directing, singing, producing, etc. OJ is the muscle behind the operation; he cares for the horses and the ranch, but he is too introverted and reserved for a Hollywood set. Emerald is the one with the charisma and the upbeat energy needed to work in showbiz. OJ looks to his sister for rescue when they’re on set for a commercial at the start of the movie, and from the first time you see Palmer on the screen, all your focus shifts to her.
As the film progresses, we learn that there is an otherworldly object, or creature, living in a cloud above the ranch that may have caused their father’s death. Down on their luck and short on money, the Haywoods set out on a mission to capture the creature on video so that they could have the “Oprah shot” that could launch them into fame and wealth. There has been a connecting thread of societal commentary throughout Peele’s films that he often leaves open to interpretation for the audience, and Nope was no exception. In this case, the film explores Hollywood and the film industry and how Black people have had “skin in the game” since the beginning of filmmaking.
The chilling horror moments in the film provide plenty of jump scares while also showing the great lengths people are willing to go to get that one viral moment that could change their lives because anyone in their right mind would pack a bag and leave. Nope also explores the trauma that child stars often live with through Ricky “Jupe” Park’s (Steven Yeun) story, as well as the importance of siblings—who are oftentimes the people by your side when shit hits the fan regardless of your differences, which Emerald and OJ so perfectly represent here.
Both of the characters are so incredibly dissimilar, but so are Palmer and Kaluuya in their delivery as actors. Palmer’s character Emerald helps the tense film breathe a little easier. She adds levity, humor, and an authenticity that’s difficult to portray if that’s not something you already carry within. During a global press conference for the movie, Complex asked the actors what they learned from each other as professionals during filming, a question that gave them both pause. “I found it hard to show joy and be natural. And be extroverted and natural with it. It’s a very hard balance to do. It is way harder than people realize,” Kaluuya said. “People look at drama and think (it’s difficult)—but it’s kind of really simple. But in terms of being joyous and exuberant and then having a reality and a realness to it is very difficult, and Keke has that for free, naturally.”
He added: “She’s just got it. That is what I was taking in a lot, the decisions she made, like, ‘Oh, that’s how you do that? That’s how you could do that? I didn’t see it that way or think of that way, I never would have arrived at that.’”
Emerald’s humor is perfectly sprinkled throughout Nope, and at times you almost forget you’re watching a horror film. Palmer, alongside Brandon Perea (who plays an electronics store employee named Angel Torres and also delivered a standout performance), add the necessary comedy to make the story feel more realistic. Even in real life, sometimes we laugh to keep from crying. Both Emerald and Angel don’t seem to take things as seriously as OJ does at first, so in the hectic moments where they do panic, the audience knows it’s for good reason. Palmer shines the brightest in the third act, though, going from the film’s comedic relief to a full-on horror and then action star—adding even more excitement for all the roles she will inevitably land after Nope.
Palmer’s relaxed acting style is comparable to some of the most seasoned and respected actors out there. She’s genuine and raw and completely natural at what she does, which makes for the best acting. She may have decades of experience, but Nope is her best performance yet. Emerald is her vessel to let the world know what she is all about. Peele recognized that in her when they met, and he told Complex in an interview that he wrote the role specifically for the actress. She hits the full spectrum of human emotion throughout the film—joy, fear, sadness, confusion, resilience, etc.—and those last 15 or so minutes of the film undoubtedly belong to her. Palmer is a star, and an Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actress category seems appropriate here.
Palmer is also obviously not alone in her greatness. Kaluuya delivers yet another masterful performance as OJ, who is a quiet, focused man of few words, and whose priority is the ranch and its animals. In the film’s most frightening moments, Kaluuya’s character stays calm. OJ keeps his cool while managing to also show slight glimpses of fear, intimidation, heart, and determination as he dodges the creature in the sky. The actor’s poise in the roles we’ve seen him in so far is what made him a star and an Oscar winner so early on in his career. I’ve referred to him as the Denzel Washington of our generation, but that doesn’t seem like enough anymore. Peele referred to Kaluuya as being to him what Robert De Niro is to Martin Scorsese, which is the most fitting comparison, and my only hope is that there will be more collaborations between them down the line. READ MORE: https://www.complex.com/pop-culture/keke-palmer-nope-lead-roles/third-act