“Nebraska” is not a film for a family outing or a romantic date. Instead, it takes a somber look in to the lives of the Grant family, as they come to grips with their aging father, Woody.
The film centers on Woody, expertly portrayed by Bruce Dern, and his adventure to claim a bogus million dollar sweepstakes given out by a marketing firm. Woody attempts to limp from Billings, Mont. to Lincoln, Neb. (an 800 mile trek) several times to claim his prize. To put that craziness into perspective, think about a hike from Athens to Jacksonville, Fla.
After catching Woody in one of these escapades, his son David (Will Forte) decides to drive his father to Lincoln. Although David doesn’t believe in the prize money, he finds it important to spend time with Woody—not knowing how much longer he’ll be around.
Shot entirely in black and white, director Alexander Payne shows the graying of America and the mundane life of the elderly. From the family reunion with Woody’s brother to the trip to his childhood home, every moment slugs along with the dreariness of goth kids at the mall.
Many scenes depict close-ups between Woody and David, as they have terse conversations in the car and in bars. The alienated nature of their relationship comes out in full force, as David tries to learn about his father’s clouded past.
What keeps this movie together is the authenticity of its actors. Will Forte seems like a run-of-the-mill guy you’d find on the street in Billings or in a honky-tonk somewhere in Nebraska. It’s hard to tell if Bruce Dern is even acting as he limps around grumbling to himself.
Woody’s worrisome wife Katie (June Squibb) adds much-needed comic relief. She seems like a grandma pulled off the street (or Bingo hall) and thrust onto a movie set. She’s a bit feisty, too. In one scene, she flashes someone’s grave that “wanted in her pants years ago.” Bob Odenkirk plays David’s brother Ross, who is an up-and-coming news anchor for a local TV station (Sadly, he’s nothing like Saul Goodman).
“Nebraska” is not without its shortcomings. The pacing is sluggish and plagued by a lack of excitement. The most thrilling scene occurs when Woody gets mugged for his ‘winning certificate’… and it’s more of a pickpocket than a mugging. Toward the last forty minutes, we’re in full-blown compulsive phone-checking mode. It just seems as if the film is plugging along with no specific purpose. Nevertheless, Payne creates a sufficient character study of an old man, riddled with injury and guilt, desiring to revisit his glory days.
Despite being fifteen minutes too long and lacking depth in some scenes, “Nebraska” is an impressive glance at the hardships of getting old. It also provides stunning insight on the dull way of life for many in Middle America who just simply “get by.” Bruce Dern turns in a great performance and his nomination for Best Actor is certainly deserved (Although Leo should win this category, I mean, it’s past due). Currently screening at the Athena at 7:15 PM daily, “Nebraska” is a solid film for anyone trying to binge on movies before the Oscars.
Speakeasy rating: B
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb
Rated R for some language