Plot: An aging broken down old man (Bruce Dern) thinks he’s won a million dollars from a publishing house and needs to get to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize. The man’s son (Will Forte) indulges his father, and takes him on a road trip where they pass through his father’s old hometown, learning more about his dad’s family and past that he never knew.
I’ve enjoyed many of Alexander Payne’s films, but for me, none have been great (Sideways is overrated, get over it). In Payne’s latest offering (Nebraska), I can emphatically say that this is his best film by far. I love this movie. The first half is a bit slow, but once it gets going, it doesn’t look back.
There’s a lot going on with this film as it incorporates a lot of sub-plots, but at it’s core is Woody Grant, played wonderfully by Bruce Dern. The first scene is a perfect depiction of both this character and the tone. It’s exactly what you would expect from an Alexander Payne movie – really depressing, but kind of funny. Only this time it’s done way better. Yea, even better then The Descendants. Whether it be with Woody’s son David (Forte), their extended family, Woody’s wife (June Squibb), or Woody’s old acquaintance Ed (Stacy Keach), there’s always good drama going on. What’s fascinating however is that while all this great stuff is playing out, you’re only half paying attention to it, as my eyes were always glued to Woody. Everybody’s constantly fighting over Woody’s “winnings,” yet the character himself is just off to the side, completely defeated while everybody talks about him. It’s absolutely heartbreaking, but in the most subtle way possible. There’s one sad moment in particular where the family goes back to Woody’s old farm home, and he’s just staring out over the fields. Dern’s acting is incredible, especially in these quiet moments where he’s simply walking by himself. As great as Bruce Dern is though, he doesn’t even give the best performance of the film.
You will hear a lot of Best Supporting Actress names thrown around at Oscar time like Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station) and Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave), but I’m guaranteeing (that’s right) a nomination right now for June Squibb, who plays Woody’s disgruntled wife Kate. Every single second Squibb is on screen, she commands your attention. Seriously, she’s throwing out one-liners like Tony Stark. But aside from how damn funny she is, the actress gets her fair share of dramatic moments as well. To put it lightly, Woody’s extended family are a bunch of assholes, and there’s a moment where Kate confronts all of them that is just absolutely glorious. I’m not even sure you’re supposed to like this character at times, and there’s a couple plot points that suggest you aren’t. Regardless, it’s an outstanding performance from June Squibb.
This is Will Forte’s first foray into drama, or dramedy rather, and he’ll be doing more. He anchors the film extremely well, and is just a likable underdog you can’t help but root for as he constantly plays referee to everybody. He gives a fairly typical Will Forte performance, but there’s enough substance added to it, that he really gets to show off his range. There’s one scene in particular where he confronts Ed, and Forte really gets to shine. Stacy Keach also has a solid supporting role, and Bob Odenkirk (Saul!) plays Woody’s other son Ross. He doesn’t get to do much, but Odenkirk was still a nice addition.
The only real complaint I have about this movie is that it takes a little while to get going. The first half is solid, but once Woody and David get to Hawthorne (Woody’s old hometown), the film gets better and better. There’s also a sub-plot involving an old flame of Woody that hints at bigger revelations, but the film doesn’t really delve into it as much as it should have. While I would have liked to of seen this explored more, it does sort of work for the movie that they leave it unresolved.
Nebraska is a fantastic script, and Payne’s best directorial work to date. It’s funny and sad at just the right times. I can’t explain why, but the movie being in black and white makes perfect sense, and it’s probably because it deals heavily with old age, and a man confronting his past. While I enjoyed Nebraska immensely, I had to endure it with a terrible audience. Seriously, there was a group of people who laughed at every little thing. “Hahahahaha, look…that guy’s walking! Hahahaha!” Cut me a break.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)