Theatrical review. There may be spoilers.
Director Alexander Payne delivers another piece of Americana and like his 2004 film "Sideways," it's a road tripper. Early on one is reminded of Peter Bogdonovich's "The Last Picture Show." The vast landscapes of the great plains of Montana, South Dakota and ultimately Nebraska replace flat and dusty north Texas, but like the 1971 masterpiece, Payne chooses to shoot in black and white.
Aging and on the cusp of dementia, Woody Grant (wonderfully played by Bruce Dern) believes he has won a million dollars. He's received one of the Publisher's Clearing House promotions and is determined to get from his home in Billings to Lincoln in order to collect his winnings. His cranky wife, Kate (award-worthy June Squibb) won't take him so he makes a couple failed attempts at walking. His youngest son David (Will Forte) finally agrees to take him, just to keep him from wondering off on his own. Along the way, Woody falls in his motel room which requires a trip to the local ER. Woody's mobility is not only impacted by his age but by the fact he sneaks in a drink whenever he can.
David convinces Woody to stay with his brother Ray over the weekend in a small withering town in Nebraska. This is where Woody grew up. Word leaks out that Woody has won a million dollars and everyone in town assumes it is the lottery. Many of Woody's old friends get quickly reacquainted especially his former partner played by Stacy Keach. Then of course, the nephews, and assorted in-laws all want a small piece of Woody's "fortune." Kate and Ross, the older son (Bob Odenkirk), join the reunion and help David keep things in check. This is where Ms. Squibb really shines. Cantankerous as she is, she loves her husband and wants to protect him. She has some great scenes confronting the relatives, but nothing better than when the family visits the local cemetery.
While there is plenty of humor throughout the film, it really is a loving and realistic look at a past. Some good, some not. Angela McEwan has some memorable scenes as the local newspaper publisher and a former sweetheart of Woody's. A very good film with some performances that will likely be noticed at Oscar time.
When a JayFlix.net participant tells me to see a movie, I usually do! This time is no different, and, as usual, I'm really glad I did. (And the Golden Globes agreed with five nominations.) In my personal experience, I have... TWICE... heard that someone had won a sweepstakes, only to learn that it was early onset senile dementia or in the other case, Alzheimer's. This is what we suspect when our elderly hero sets out for Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his million dollars. Problem is, he no longer has a working vehicle, nor does he have a driver's license, so he's walking... from Montana. His son is pulled into the story by his besieged wife.
Full disclosure, I spent my early years on a farm in South Dakota, so the set design, the clothes, the speech patterns, the scenery, the pace, the people, and the small faded towns of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska evoked fond memories. (No, I didn't have an unhappy childhood, sorry...)
* Bruce Dern ("Madison") is the booze-addled curmudgeon who wants his million dollars. Dern has worked for decades before landing this role of a lifetime! He won "Best Actor" at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
* Will Forte ("Saturday Night Live") is his unfortunate son, unable to talk his father out of that haywire obsession.
* June Squibb ("About Schmidt") is the wife with a tongue like barbed wire. She has lashed her husband for decades until he rarely hears a word she says.
* Bob Odenkirk (Lots of TV) is the "good" son who has landed a job as a television newscaster. When he gets into a fight he shouts, "Don't hit the face!"
* Stacy Keach (Lots of television) is a former business partner who sees this unexpected windfall as a way to collect some money from our hero.
It's difficult to realize that all those authentic relatives and neighbors were actors! Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways") has evoked astonishingly pure performances, bona fide settings, and credible situations. This tiny little R-rated domestic dramedy is no more than a tempest in a teapot, but we come to care a great deal about what happens to these people.
Payne doesn't often make movies, but when he does....Oh My! Amazon will notify me when the DVD is available.
I live in Nebraska in a county of over four hundred square miles and not a single traffic light. I have friends and relatives in NYC and enjoy the contrast. My mother was born in New York City and died in Nebraska, choosing to live here for sixty five years. We have everything in our small town, a critical care access hospital, an award winning winery/microbrewery and great stores and services. We don't have a movie theater! A drive of nearly an hour takes us to the closet one with digital technology. A nice closer one is dependent on 35 millimeter film. A friend and I drove to a showing and were two minutes late due to being behind a truck hauling scrap metal, the new burgeoning industry in Kansas and Nebraska. This was a 5 PM showing and was so crowded we had to sit in the front row. Like a good book, I was sucked into the story in no time. I have dealt with aging parents on the verge of dementia, the brain trust at the local bar with the stomachs emerging over their belts and cousins whose thought processes are mildly suspect. They were all here. What struck me was the laughter at times where I thought I would land on the floor and the sympathy I had for the brothers and their parental dilemma. I will treasure this as I do "The Last Picture Show" as a film about people in transition and making the best of a difficult situation with grace and humor.
on February 5, 2014
Impeccably acted, by everyone involved.
Grandly photographed. Gorgeous to behold.
Reveals much, without necessarily articulating it.
Perceptive, an incredibly rendered slice of life
Now that this one is done, it will be a while before Alexander Payne has another movie. And that is the only negative thing I have to say.
on February 18, 2014
The premise of the movie is Woody's (Bruce Dern), belief, that the "come on" flyer claiming he has won a million dollars is legitimate. He is determined to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his money, and his dutiful son (Will Forte) decides to fulfill his father's wish. When Woody's wife (June Scribb) ridicules the idea, her son tells his mother, the trip is about making his dad happy while he's till semi coherent. Along the way, they stop and spend time in Woody's home town, where old friends and family are revisited(some expecting a share of Woody's "winnings"), secrets revealed and unfinished business is resolved. The way small town America is portrayed, may be stereotyped to some, but stereotypes have a basis in fact. As someone coming from small town Wyoming, the scenes of the town and the people were so right on, I burst out laughing. Sweet, poignant, funny and sad, I thought the movie was wonderful and certainly deserving of all the award nominations. Don't miss this one.
on February 13, 2014
At it's core, this is a movie about love. Not a romatic love, but the love you have for your family, and specifically in this case, parents. It's really about disappointments in life, and loving family with all their flaws, even though they bug the hell out of you, and do terrible things. Given that subject matter, it's actually a fun watch.
on March 2, 2014
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a man who lived a life of little consequence. He grew up in the U.S. heartland, served his country in Korea, married Kate(June Squibb), and had two boys. When the film begins Woody is ambling down the interstate in Billings, Montana in a disheveled state telling the police officer that he's going to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim a prize he thinks he won through a magazine publishers sweepstakes. Kate is livid at the delusional Woody wanting to put him in a home. The youngest son, David(Will Forte), is more accommodating driving Woody to Lincoln himself to dispel the fantasy. The purpose of the trek is twofold. For Woody its an opportunity for redemption, a chance for some significance to his life as it winds down. For David, who is coming off a recent breakup of a two year relationship, not only is the purpose to quell Woody's delusions but a chance to reconnect with the early stage Alzheimer's Woody before it is too late. Director Alexander Payne frames this film brilliantly contrasting in luxurious black-and-white cinematography the harsh Midwestern landscape against Woody's weather beaten visage. This in turn mirrors the odyssey of Dern who after a career as a celebrated supporting actor is given a role that summarizes his journey as an artist. His Woody is a man of few words and there's not a wasted gesture or expression with Dern defining him with his mournful eyes. If there is a scene that defines the film it's the one where Woody with little emotion relates how his younger brother died of scarlet fever when the child was two years old. Squibb takes the opposite tack by painting the feisty Kate in broad strokes not afraid to drop a vulgarity here and there. This is a career opportunity for the octogenarian Squibb and she embraces it like hellfire. Forte, best known from his days on "Saturday Night Live", is appropriately restrained. He probably has more dialogue than anyone in the film but he wisely demurs to his elders. I don't think Payne is making any earth shattering statements other than the importance of closure in a person's life. It's the utter lack of pretense of "Nebraska" that gives it resonance.
on January 9, 2014
I don't understand some of the reviews for Alexander Payne's "Nebraska." Gritty and unsentimental the film certainly is, but the assertion that it's crueler than anything by the Coen Brothers is nonsensical to me. Payne's direction and Bob Nelson's screenplay reveal successive layers of both brutality and poignancy in the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) an old man in Billings, Montana, who clings stubbornly to the idea that he has won $1 million in the Publishers' Clearinghouse sweepstakes. David (Will Forte), Woody's hapless son, offers to drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska, just to prove to him he didn't win a cent. But Woody's sudden illness waylays father and son in Woody's home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where Woody's family members and old friends take Woody's claims of sudden wealth at face value.
"Nebraska" is a masterpiece of wry humor, and has a keen eye for the tensions that build up within families. Exemplifying those tensions is Kate (June Squibb), Woody's wife, who expresses her disappointments in no uncertain (or chaste) terms. There's also a lot of meanness in the film, exemplified by Woody's old crony Ed Peagram (Stacy Keach) and David's weirdo cousins Bart and Cole (Tim Driscoll, Devin Rattray). But the final emotion we feel in "Nebraska" is love, as Woody expresses things he never said before and David learns things he never knew before. It is that tenderness at "Nebraska's" core that makes it a transcendent experience. Phedon Papamichael's photography of the Great Plains is as starkly beautiful as anything in "The Last Picture Show," and the acting--particularly that of Dern, Forte, and Squibb--could not possibly be finer, funnier, or more nuanced. "Nebraska" is one of the finest films of 2014.
on April 13, 2014
I was like..do I really want to watch this movie looks to depressing!
well I'm glad I listened to my Mom who was visiting, because this
is one of the best Movies I have seen. The acting was excellent, story
line great! A good movie!! Watch it!
on February 18, 2014
Nebraska is another of those movies that I would never have gone to see (or probably even rented) if it wasn't nominated for Best Picture. I don't think it's a "best picture," but I am glad I saw it. Of all of this year's best picture nominees, it is probably the one that will linger the longest in my mind despite it's very subdued quality as a movie.
And it is subdued. Slow moving. And black-and-white, which adds to the subdued quality. I've been trying to figure out what the movie would be like in color, and I can't really imagine it that way. Color would change the tone of the movie, which is kind of weird to me, but I think it would. It would make it not quite so somber, and it needs the somberness, the sense of depression and desperation, to make it work.
Being black and white, though, it won't appeal to a lot of people (my daughter (and, yeah, she's just a kid, but I've known plenty of adults with the same attitude) refuses to watch b&w movies out of principle. The fact that it's slow, including scenes of people just sitting around not talking, will also make it unappealing to pretty sizable chunk of people. But some of those scenes of people just sitting, or sitting and watching football, reminded me of being a kid in East Texas, and those scenes really resonated with me which has caused me to continue to think about it even though it's not at all spectacular.
The other part of that is that the movie is not what it's about. On the surface it's a movie about an old guy that seems not quite all there trying to walk to Nebraska to pick up $1,000,000 that he thinks he's won, but it's not about that. I mean, it's not about growing old and losing your grasp on reality. It's about relationships and how we don't always know people as well as we think we do, even when those people are our parents.
The acting was great. I'm not sure Bruce Dern deserves the best actor nomination, but he was very good. He really sold the depression and desperation. Okay, maybe he does deserve the nomination. The role is so... normal; it makes it hard to tell. Will Forte was even better as his younger son, David. He brought the helplessness and exasperation to the role. They were great together. And Forte was also great with Bob Odenkirk who played his older brother. They had great chemistry. June Squib was frightening and hilarious as Woody's wife.
I'm going to hold myself back, at this point, and not talk about the relationships and family dynamics, because it would require all kinds of spoilers, and I think this is the kind of movie that each person should come to on his/her own, so to speak. It probably has something different to say to any given person based on what that person is bringing into it, like my resonance with the old men in my family sitting around, mostly silently, watching football.
This one probably won't appeal to a lot of people at the outset. There are no explosions, no gunfights, and no car chases. But, if you let yourself get pulled along, I think it's one you'll find yourself pondering at odd moments for weeks (or at least days) after you see it.