Nebraska (Rated R, 115 minutes)
The beautifully sweet story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a gullible alcoholic who believes he won a million dollar sweepstake prize. After his family is unable to convince him that it is a fake, his son David (Will Forte) takes him on a road trip to Nebraska so that he can ‘collect his prize.’ This film thrives on the quirkiness of its characters; yes, Alexander Payne is a veteran director, but even he knows this film is a character piece. His visual tropes are present in film, for instance the pull back shot of a long road; but his visual style is never overbearing. He allows the characters to tell the story; which in some cases could be bad, but this style works with the character driven nature of the film.
With that said, the writing of the film is extraordinary. Bob Nelson paints a perfect picture of rural America and his writing is aided by the simple black and white imagery: this represents a perfect marriage between writing and directing. The film’s lack of color encapsulates this charming depiction of rural America; but at the same time, has certain pessimism, as if the old America is long gone after the economy’s crash. This is why the black and white color palette is perfect; it suits both the optimism and pessimism of Nebraska.
Now, the writing and directing is good, but as previously stated, this would be nothing without the acting; however, my sole gripe with the film is that the acting feels ‘stiff’ at the beginning. Luckily after the initial ten minutes, the whole cast improves and that is when the movie really takes off. Bruce Dern’s Woody has the perfect story arch; at the beginning no one seems to like him. He is an airheaded alcoholic, who may or may not have been a good father; he seems self-centered and his silence seems like an indication of his one-track mind. Yet, as the movie progresses, the audience begins to understand why David cares so much about his distant father. He is a nice guy under this silent guise and his biggest problem results from believing in the good of people; this naivety may be the reason why he wants this million dollars to exist. But the money also, might be his last chance to regain his pride and to show his son who he really is. And speaking of the son, the usually crass Will Forte brings the son David to life; but this everyman role suits him better than the SNL shtick that got him famous.
Last, the amazing June Squibb plays the wonderfully loud spouse of Woody. Kate is a peculiar character because her actions may seem rude and obnoxious, but she is a rude woman with a heart of gold. Yes, at the beginning she seems annoying, but by the end the audience understands how this marriage lasted as long as it did. She may scream and yell, but in the end, there is true love behind the yelling. June Squibb is phenomenal, but it certainly helps when Bob Nelson gives her the best dialogue.
To some this may seem like a pessimistic story about simple people, but this father and son journey connected with me. There is no final hug or clichéd embrace between them, just a better understanding of each other. Which is why this feels like a real relationship and not the fake crap Hollywood churns out. I am honestly shocked by how much I loved this film; if I saw this last year it would have been in my top five favorites of 2013.