Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Alexander Payne's Nebraska falls in line his previous films' themes of real-life drama and humor presented in an endearing, serious way. Never being too dull or full of itself, Nebraska offers a glimpse into the longing we each have for a purpose or legacy in our lives. It also displays the humorless sadness that exists in each of us, but that we either learn to ignore the older we get or allow ourselves to be more honest with ourselves and each other.
Set on the backdrop of the beautiful American midwest, the film centers on Woody Grant, played with sincere veracity by Academy Award-nominated legend Bruce Dern (Coming Home, The War Wagon). Grant believes he's won $1,000,000 after receiving a notice in the mail from a Publisher's Clearing House-type company in Lincoln, NE. Despite the fact that he is no longer allowed to drive thanks to his old age and problems with alcoholism, Wooddy is determined to make it to Lincoln before the deadline so he can receive his money. Every single person in his family thinks he's crazy, including his spice-tongued wife Kate (June Squibb, About Schmidt), his older son Ross (Bob Odenkirk, "Breaking Bad"), and his younger son David (Will Forte, "Saturday Night Live"). Just when Woody has run the gamut with trying to leave their small Montana town for the "big city" of Lincoln, David decides to take him on a road trip to clear his mind and hopefully rid him of the sweepstakes foolishness. A pit stop in Woody's hometown ignites a passionate weekend of memories and the resurgence of old feelings.
As Woody's wife, Squibb steals the show here. Her biting critiques of everything Woody does adds solid comedic relief and the kind of natural stings we all love our older relatives for. Forte sheds his goofball comedic timing for a heartbreaking turn as Woody's son. When he decides to pass on preaching at his dad about alcohol consumption and actually sits with him for a father-son beer, he learns why Woody is in all of this madness to begin with and David finally learns to idolize his dad to a degree. The supporting players that make up Woody's extended family and past friends are characters worthy of a great American novel. When Woody, Kate, Ross, and David accidentally steal an air compressor from the wrong people's house, the older people put on their best "church" faces and talk their way out of an awkward moment. The laughs ensue.
Payne has become a master at delivering heartfelt American stories about people that we all probably know, but through a realistic way. Woody could be any of our older family members. We've all been to that awkward get together where an argument erupts. Everyone has a past and not too many of us would be as brave as Woody to embrace the differences that were behind him.
Dern deserves the praise he's gotten. While an Oscar would be deserved, many would probably consider it more of an award in recognition of his entire career, however this performance is deserving enough. Squibb is also awards caliber.
The beautiful black and white cinematography adds to the luster of the Americana in Payne's films. The breathtaking midwest backdrops anchor the incredibly drawn out characters the script brings to life.
This is a movie that should earn a great audience, though many will be put off by the way it looks. Give it a chance. Trust me. Black and white isn't that bad. These characters are too good to miss.
Runtime: 115 minutes