Because the critic at Variety said what I wanted to say before I could say it, I will use his exact words: "Accusing Nobel Son of being over-the-top is like complaining the circus is too colorful." Nobel Son is way over-the-circus-top, and that's the best thing about it. Several scenes completely cut all moorings to reality and shamelessly (even defiantly) drift through the nothingness of nonsense. The main characters: Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg), an impoverished anthropology PhD candidate whose dissertation is about cannibalism and video games; Eli Michaelson (Alan Rickman), an egomaniacal and grossly unfaithful chemistry professor who has just been awarded a Nobel Prize and is the father of the impoverished anthropology student; and Sarah Michaelson (Mary Steenburgen), a criminal psychologist who is world-weary, the mother of the anthropology student, the wife of the chemistry professor, and a secret lover of a tough detective, Max Mariner (Bill Pullman). There are other characters, the two most important of whom are the illegitimate son of the chemistry professor, Thaddeus James (Shawn Hatosy), and a seriously bad poet named City Hall (Eliza Dushku).
One part of the movie is an outright comedy; the other is totally a crime thriller. The two parts do not meet until near end of the film. For much of the film, they exist side-by-side, each self-contained, each indifferent to the other. You jump from a comedy into a thriller, and then from a thriller into a comedy, sans warning, sans preparation. The plot centers on a kidnapping that is absurdly involved. And in the end, the bastard son of the chemistry professor turns out to be just that, a bastard. Some things will never change.
The winners of this film: the MINI Cooper (the car of choice for heists) and Tully's Coffee. Both products have prominent and positive roles in Nobel Son. The losers: Of course, the bastard is a loser, but so, too, are the fields of science, cultural studies, and poetry. Indeed, on one level the film can be read as a statement on the current condition of these disciplines. All have fallen, all have lost their souls. Science has turned into a madman, cultural studies has become a cannibal, and poetry finds its end in a madwoman who paints in a dark room with other mad people. The night when all cows are black—that, according to Nobel Son, is the situation of poetry today.