An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. (IMDB)
Writer: Bob Nelson
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Run time/Rating: 115 Minutes/ R
Popcorn Score: Large Popcorn with Butter
As my lovely wife and I began the enjoyable task to watch every single academy award nominated movie despite the qualifying category we began with the short list of best picture films that we had not yet seen. Already having checked out American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street and Her at the time of their releases, we had to catch up with Dallas Buyer Club, Gravity, and Nebraska. After what I thought was a fairly weak first 9 months of the year for film, come September when we started diving into that list I quickly realized that 2013 was just saving its best stuff for the end. That is way it will go with award season I suppose.
I was mentally stacking the films from best to worst as I went along and although Philomena held my number one spot it was not the king of the mountain without question. I knew there was another movie out there that would blow me away with its…. whatever.
I finally saw Nebraska. Similar to the film year of 2013, did I save the best for last? I am pleased to say that I did.
I believe there is not much else you can do to market your movie as niche, slow and boring. Maybe this is why I took my time to check it out. Notably, filmed in black and white (not visually pleasing by most standards), having a cover poster with just the silhouette of an old grizzly Bruce Dern, and a title of “Nebraska”, quite possibly the most boring state in the union. I mean, what could a movie about Nebraska possibly be minus corn, or the cornhuskers? This movie must have turned away mass audiences in droves.
Despite all of this, I was still eager to watch Nebraska. Alexander Payne’s exceptionally real life take on a family from Montana who are struggling with growing old, regrets, kids, parents, relationships, all taking place in the deluded hope of an aging man trying to track down a lottery prize.
When we meet Woody Grant he had recently received one of those classic marketing letters saying that he “may have won” a lot of money and all he needs to do is come to Nebraska and pick it up. Despite everyone in his life informing him that it is a scam, he is insistent on making it to Lincoln – even if that means just walking down the highway whenever he is given the opportunity to escape. Living in Montana this of course is a pretty unrealistic walk. He is ready for it though or he’ll die trying. This is what his son David (Will Forte) realizes when he finally gives in, calls in sick and decides to take the opportunity to have some time alone with his dad before he likely dies in the near future.
This road trip brings the two through Woody’s hometown which is where much of the story happens. Alexander Payne proves again that he has the ability as a director to cut out all of the unnecessary glamour and glitz that so many films rely on all while cutting straight to the heart, honesty and truth of people and moments in life that we can all relate to. Directing a script by Bob Nelson, the story is so incredibly engaging, and offers every emotion from heartbreak to heartfelt joy and laughter.
Bruce Dern proves that acting can be best done without words. The guilty, grizzled, military scarred; basically dying, old drunk does not have much to say but always displays his emotion with his eyes and on his aged face. Will Forte is the perfect driving companion as a young man with a number of his own issues in life but also has the compassion needed and the self-awareness of a man who understands that life is circular. The rest of the immediate family is just perfect as well. Bob Odenkirk as the more polished older brother who is just a little more tired of his family and June Squibb as the foul mouthed mother who has put in her time and now going to be whatever she wants to be. She is nominated along with her movie husband for the supporting actress category and him the lead actor category. It could not be argued if both won.
Sometimes when dissecting the pieces of a great movie, if you ever feel the need to take on that form of unnecessary self-penance, it is difficult or even impossible to rate which aspects of the movie made it so great. The Writing? The directing? The performances? The Music? Sometimes when a movie is as good as Nebraska, everything comes together just right.
Large Popcorn with Butter.