CAPSULE: Alexander Payne gives us a sad, low-key comedy/drama filmed in black and white. David already knew his father Woody (Bruce Dern) was moving into old-age dementia, but now Woody has gotten a publisher's ad claiming he has won a million dollars and he is convinced he can claim the money if he can present the ad in Lincoln, Nebraska. David agrees to have one last adventure with his father, taking Woody from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, on a fool's errand that he knows can only end in disappointment. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
Woody Grant of Billings, Montana (played by Bruce Dern), has had a meaningless life passing time to no special end. Old age has brought dementia. With some charity people say he is just "confused" and angry with everyone around him. His run-ins with his wife and his son are authentic and gently humorous. And now a publisher's ad he got in the mail starts out claiming he has won a million dollars if ... and Woody is convinced that finally he has struck it rich and made good.
Woody has long since alienated his son David (Will Forte). The elderly man has been an alcoholic for decades and David has never had respect for his father. After David fails to convince his father that the publisher's ad is worthless he agrees to have one last attempt to share something meaningful with Woody. He will drive his father to Lincoln, Nebraska, and while there stop in Hawthorne, the small Nebraska town where Woody grew up.
On the way they stop in nearly every bar, and eventually also in Hawthorne. There he meets again Woody's old partner Ed (a portly Stacy Keach) who has unfinished business with Woody. This is a story of old people living with little but television and their memories of the past. And the claimed memories largely contradict each other. The major themes are aging, memory, and a desperate father-son relationship near its inevitable end.
Alexander Payne (SIDEWAYS, THE DESCENDANTS) directs a screenplay written by Bob Nelson. Payne had a chance to direct NEBRASKA immediately after directing SIDEWAYS, but was reluctant to do a second road trip movie so soon. Cinematography is by Phedon Papamichael who filmed in beautiful black-and-white. He captures skies thick with clouds over boundless empty spaces of land and small towns with streets as wide as superhighways. There is a very strong regional feel to the area and the people.
Bruce Dern has made a career of playing disturbed, angry men. It is interesting that toward the end of his career he has what may be his most memorable role and that he was able to achieve it playing an older version of the type of part he built his career on. Most of the characters give a real feel of being simple, rural TV- watchers, who welcome boredom and repetition like a close friend. Holding her own against Dern is June Squibb as Woody's wife who verbally spars with Woody and whose now obese form hides a wildish personal history.
NEBRASKA is measured, sad, funny, and in its simplicity impressively well written. We get the feeling that people in Nebraska are just like the rest of us, only a little slower at getting about it. I rate NEBRASKA a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1821549/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/nebraska/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2013 Mark R. Leeper