VOD film review: Nebraska
Old Women Swearing8
James R | On 14, Apr 2014
Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibbs
Watch Nebraska online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
“Has he got Alzheimer’s?”
That’s a lady at a sweepstakes company to David (Forte). His dad, Woody (Dern), receives junk mail from them saying he’s won a million dollars. He believes it. The only way he can claim his prize? Return the letter to Lincoln, Nebraska. So he sets off immediately. On foot. Down the highway. Every time he disappears on his pedestrian pilgrimage, the police pick him up and drag him, begrudgingly, back to his wife, Kate (Squibb). Then, he does it again.
Sick of this sorry cycle and looking for a distraction from a break-up, David agrees with his more successful brother (Breaking Bad’s excellent Bob Odenkirk) to drive their dad to Nebraska to collect the imaginary winnings. On the way, they stop off at Woody’s nearby home town of Hawthorne for the night, kicking up a wave of particles from the past into Woody’s dusty existence.
Shot in stark monochrome by king-of-the-mid-life-crisis Alexander Payne, the landscape of Nebraska is a bleak spectacle, but one that acquires a strange warmth as a weird family reunion forms. Payne balances that tone through the movie, straddling the hazy present with the harsh truth of history; a strange mix of sad and sweet, delivered with a gentle bluntness.
“Come on, have a beer with your old man. Be somebody,” half-slurs Woody. David consents, an act that brings up decades-old issues of alcoholism, yet also hints at awkward reconciliation. Woody goes through the same process with his old life, as former friends come out of the woodwork to congratulate him on his fortune – or remind him of unsettled debts.
As Woody becomes a local celebrity, he starts to buy into his status too – much to the annoyance of his family (including his wonderfully bullheaded nephews, one of them played by Buzz from Home Alone). But those frosty relationships are again shot through with honesty; their idea of quality time together is sitting in front of the football on the telly. “How long did it take you to drive here?” they ask each other repeatedly, then sit there in silence.
That’s what you get from Nebraska. No big, melodramatic confrontations or loud shouting matches: just a bunch of people struggling to connect. Whereas Payne’s previous films have been often about middle-class white people going through existential dilemmas, Nebraska feels grittier thanks to Woody’s lower, working-class roots. Bruce Dern is excellent in the lead, the black and white camera picking up the lines in his face as the blank expression of dementia slowly sets in. Will Forte is equally likeable as his downbeat son, but the show is almost stolen by June Squibb’s impatient partner; one scene where she and Woody visit a graveyard is hysterically foul-mouthed.
Does Woody really believe he’s going to be rich? It doesn’t matter. By going to Nebraska, he’s trying to regain control of his life; a shark that keeps on swimming. And the emotional bond he forges with Forte along the way is already rewarding enough. Their shifting, understated relationship turns Nebraska into a heartwarmingly cold study of the generational divide between people – and a touching account of one man’s slide into senility.
“Has he got Alzheimer’s?” asks the lady. “No,” replies David, “he just believes what people tell him.” She replies wryly: “That’s too bad.”