Nebraska

****

It sucked!It'll be on cable.I liked it.It was good!It was awesome!! (1 People gave this 4.00 out of 5)
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Old age can be a real drag.

Nebraska

The H-Bomb: Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a cantankerous old boozer whose years of heavy drinking have made him halfway senile. One day, he receives a letter from a sweepstakes informing him that he has won a million dollars. While it’s obvious to his wife, Kate (June Squibb), and two sons, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk), that this letter is a complete scam, Woody insists on making the 900 mile trek from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the sweepstakes outfit is located, to claim his prize. Even though Woody can no longer drive, he remains hell bent on making the trip, so David reluctantly agrees to go along with him.

After some mishaps involving an overnight stay in a hospital and a search for lost dentures, the father-son duo finally make it to Nebraska, where they decide to stop over in Hawthorne, the small town where Woody grew up, and spend a few days with his brother (Rance Howard) and some other relatives. David warns his dad not to say anything about the money, but old Woody just can’t keep his dang old mouth shut and tells an entire tavern full of local beer bellies all about it.

Before long, Woody becomes the talk of the town, as the news of his good fortune spreads like wild fire. He’s getting pats on the back everywhere he goes, and a local newspaper, The Hawthorne Republican, has even requested an interview with him. As much as David tries to explain that it’s all just a misunderstanding, that his father hasn’t really won a damn thing, the good folks of Hawthorne will hear nothing of it, and soon some old “friends” and family members come crawling out of the woodwork, looking to take a piece of Woody’s non-existent winnings…

After his escapades in California Wine Country (Sideways) and Hawaii (The Descendants), director Alexander Payne returns to his home turf with Nebraska, a new dramedy about family, growing old, and discovering what’s really important in life. Working from a screenplay by Bob Nelson, this is the first film of Payne’s that he has not written himself, however, it does have quite a bit in common with the filmmaker’s past work, in how it follows the story of utterly ordinary people as they live their utterly ordinary lives, and in how it finds poignancy and humor in the seemingly mundane. In this case, it’s the story of a father and son bonding over a road trip, and in typical Payne fashion, things shift, quite naturally, from heartfelt to hilarious, with his signature undercurrent of melancholy running throughout.

The digital black and white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael, which gives the rural Midwest a look that is drab yet beautiful, goes a long way in setting the film’s sad-but-funny tone. It seems as though a lot of modern indies that are shot in black and white are only done so because the director thinks it makes the film look cool and artistic, but in the case of Nebraska, Payne expertly uses it in a way that is entirely¬†unpretentious and appropriate for the story. In the world of filmmaking, that’s the kind of thing that separates the boys from the men, and that is but one reason why Payne is one of the best directors working today.

In addition to impeccably creating the perfect mood, Payne also elicits some finely nuanced work from his talented cast, led by Dern, who is absolutely pitch perfect in a role that one would swear was tailor made for him. At the tender young age of 77, Dern gives what is easily the performance of his career as Woody, the somewhat out of it old timer who has to know that his million dollar prize is a scam, but who is so desperate for something to live for, aside from drinking, that he is willing to travel far and wide to obtain it. Having, in recent years, seen many family members grow old and a little aloof, I can attest that there is not a false note to Dern’s performance. The way he often seems lost in his own daydreams, and how he answers everything with a jarring “Huh?” or “What?”, despite not being hard of hearing, is authentic through and through. As a character we laugh at and pity in equal measure, Woody is the embodiment of the film’s bitter-sweet nature, and I’ll be damned if Dern’s performance isn’t award worthy.

Also making a strong impression is SNL’s Forte, as the much put upon son who accompanies his father for the whole journey. Having only seen him in the (very unfunny) feature length version of MacGruber, he is a revelation in what is essentially the straight man role, reacting to his unpredictable father’s antics sometimes with shock, other times with frustration, but ultimately with a sense of understanding and patience. He is the film’s anchor, and a sturdy one, at that. The other standout in the cast is Squibb, as Woody’s crass, loud mouthed, and exasperated wife. Most of the laugh-out-loud funny moments in the movie belong to her, in particular, the cemetery scene in which she pays a visit to some of Woody’s deceased relatives. I can’t give away what exactly is said, but it’s an absolute show stopper.

The rather languid pace and low key nature of Nebraska may be a put off to viewers who prefer their motion pictures with a little more pizazz, but for those who appreciate smaller, character driven stories, there is quite a lot to take away here. If I had to liken Nebraska to any of Alexander Payne’s previous films, I would say it’s most reminiscent of About Schmidt, both tonally and thematically, about men who are in the twilight of their lives and looking for some sense of purpose. It’s a meditation on old age and relationships that is, perhaps, a bit too dry at times, but is overall disarmingly charming, exceptionally acted, and, as a whole, quite rewarding.

 


2 Responses to “Nebraska”

  1. Paul_Brook Says:

    Great review. I've put it on my list of things to see. I don't mind the more character driven films.

  2. H-Man Says:

    Cool! Check back in when you see it, let us know what you thought.

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