Nebraska (2013) Directed by Alexander Payne. With Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk and Stacy Keach.
Stripped down and presented in black and white, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska explores themes around growing old, getting in touch with your past and family bonding. Sounds like a cosy watch, and to an extent, it is, while simultaneously being an acerbic satire on the aforementioned. Of course, with Sideways, Payne has proven himself adept at fusing heartbreaking with heart-warming, and once again, he gets great performances from a cast playing characters that are as endearing as they are frustrating.
The film revolves around Bruce Dern’s character, Woody, a cantankerous old man, convinced he’s won $1million dollars, thanks to junk mail letter purporting such. To appease him, his son (Will Forte) agrees to drive his Dad to Lincoln, Nebraska, to collect his supposed winnings.
Like most road movies, this is about the characters rediscovering something new about themselves and each other, amid new circumstances. Of course, it’s nothing new to most audiences but thanks to fine performances, that doesn’t make it any less resonant or engaging. Despite its monochrome presentation, Nebraska is alive with colourful portrayals, none more so than a scene-stealing June Squibb, playing Woody’s disapproving wife with biting hilarity. Indeed, and like much of Payne’s work, the film flits effortlessly between the funny side and the sadness in life, to reassuring effect.
Nebraska isn’t glamorous, and it might not be something that will leap off the shelf for most, but Dern is magnificent in the central role, working from a beautiful script by Bob Nelson, which develops into something funnier and far more uplifting than you might expect. 4/5