It's true. Every one of his films tell the story of some ill-fated schmuck who can't seem to get their shit together. But because Alexander Payne is a master storyteller, we can't help but love these poor schmoes.

In a new video essay, Mac Nixon of A Thousand Words shines a light on the themes of failure in Payne's films, from Jim McAllister in Election to David and Woody Grant in Nebraska.

Payne certainly has one of the dirtiest jobs in film: he tells the stories of people who are so unlikable and bad at life that it's impossible to sympathize with them—almost. That's where the director's talent shines like a beacon of light in a dark, sad, pitiful world. He manages to find the pieces of humanity in these characters as they experience failure, ineptitude, fear, bitterness, and jealousy. We begin to see these characters as fractured parts of ourselves.

Payne's films allow us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, warts and all, so we can begin to root for ourselves the way we root for Jim, David, and Woody. We can sympathize. We can laugh. We can start to see that being a loser is actually kind of endearing—and, ultimately, lovable.

Source: A Thousand Words