Nebraska

Nebraska photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgA father and son take a road trip from Billings, Montana to Omaha, Nebraska. Their goal? To claim a sweepstakes the father has won in the mail. Bruce Dern is Woody Grant. He looks to be in his 70s and is a man of few words. It also happens to be Dern’s juiciest theatrical role in decades. He is ably supported by a nice ensemble cast. Will Forte is David, his exasperated son unable to convince his father that the letter is just a scam. Given Woody’s declining mental capabilities and his proclivity for wandering off, David agrees to accompany his father to pick up the prize money. June Squibb is Woody’s crabby old wife that wants nothing to do with the lot of them and lets them know at every turn with very colorful language. Along the trip, the duo will visit with family and friends.

Nebraska is a dramatic tone poem in a minor key. There are no explosions, fist fights, car chases or anything in the way of sensational developments. The atmosphere is decidedly somber in tone. Director Alexander Payne has filmed this as a meditation on aging. The stark black and white cinematography perfectly complements the bare bones plot. Alternatively highlighted by scenes of sprawling vistas of the northern Great Plains with carefully arranged men gathered around a TV set in a tiny living room. The ebb and flow of this road movie celebrates the mundanity of life.  It is absurdist in nature. Nebraska is the first film from director Payne that he did not write. Initially Bob Nelson’s script is depressing, almost condescending in tone. The screenplay mines humor from despair. Woody is an alcoholic, David has suffered a recent breakup, his mother is an irritable harridan. But be patient. There is a humorist tone that pokes fun but also warmly embraces these characters. As it plays out, Nebraska becomes a rewarding experience. There is an ultimate poignancy to the story that gently rewards a receptive viewer.

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17 Responses to “Nebraska”

  1. Good review Mark. To me, the script felt like it toyed around too much with being simplistic and subtle, and then at other times, outrageous and over-the-top, but Payne found the middle-ground and somehow made it all come together and work. Same thing goes for the cast.

  2. Sounds like something more solemn for Alexander Payne…though the whole sweepstakes thing kind of reminds me of the road trip that was Sideways. Good review. I’m excited to see this.

    Did you see Catching Fire yet?

  3. Nice review. As you know, I was a big fan of Nebraska. I really liked the absurdist tone. I hope Bruce Dern gets some attention come award season.

  4. Good review. I couldn’t imagine this to have many “sensational” dramatizations in it given the artwork on the poster. I’ve been curious about this for a while, and look forward to finally getting my take on it when it opens here. Loved the Descendants. But that might have been mostly attributable to Faxon and Rash’s brilliant writing

  5. I thought this was cute. Acting was great by all characters, especially June Squibb. She was ridiculously hilarious. I loved the relationship between father and son. 3 1/2 stars

  6. I’m looking forward to seeing this film since I’ve heard such great things about not only Bruce Dern’s performance, but about Will Forte’s surprising turn as well. If it’s Alexander Payne I expect a certain amount of humor mined from despair and a bleak tone at points, but he hasn’t steered me wrong with that in the past, so I think I’ll be more than willing to give this film a chance until it hits its stride.

  7. Agreed on this one, as well. It’s a sweet road movie and, despite a handful of flaws, another successful project from Alexander Payne.

    Good review again!

  8. I just saw this today. Admittedly, I had no clue that it comes to Blu-ray, uh, TOMORROW. But I’m really glad I did see it in the theater, because that’s where it deserves to be seen. This was a beautiful movie.

    I liked it a little bit more than you, but it seems that we agree for the most part here. My review will be up on March 11th.

    • Wow. I had no idea this was still in theaters. It came out months ago.

      Movies are always better in a theater anyway, and Phedon Papamichael’s beautiful black and white cinematography is best appreciated on a big screen.

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