Classic Movie Review: Nebraska (2013)

Posted: January 3, 2015 in Comedy, Drama
Tags: ,


Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an aging man from Billings Montana, who drinks too much and is suffering from dementia.  Woody has convinced himself that he has won a million dollars in a sweepstakes drawing.  His son David (Will Forte) has nothing going on in his life, he broke up with his girlfriend, and works in an electronics store, so he decides to indulge his father’s fantasy and take him to Lincoln Nebraska to see about his sweepstakes ticket. Along the way they stop in Hawthorne Nebraska to stay with relatives.  Woody does a little bragging about the million dollar prize, and soon Woody’s ex-business partner, Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) wants a piece of his winnings.  Soon, David’s aunts, uncles and cousins are all asking for a piece of Woody’s winnings.  Do David and Woody ever make it to Lincoln?  Is the sweepstakes a sham?  Or is it legit?

I can honestly say I’ve never seen a movie like Nebraska.  It’s a slice of life movie.  It’s a slice of small town life.  A town where if someone has big news, that news makes the rounds pretty quickly, a town where the majority of the town are elderly, and just seem to be filling time until they pass away.  The story on the surface seems to be about a man going through the motions to please his father, but it’s really about a son learning about his father through his friends and other inhabitants of the town, while also coping with his father’s mortality and memory loss.  It’s a very touching and heartfelt movie that’s also unexpectedly funny.  The ending is sweet and appropriate, without being saccharine.

The performances are first-rate.  Bruce Dern is perfect as the crotchety old cuss, convinced he’s got the golden ticket to fortune.  Will Forte of Saturday Night Live fame gives a beautifully understated performance as a son trying to make his father’s last few days enjoyable.  The movie is absolutely stolen by June Squibb as Dern’s wife, who has absolutely no filter and seems to think every man in town was trying to sleep with her.  She is hilarious.  There are also great performances by Stacy Keach as Woody’s former business partner and Bob Odenkirk as David’s brother, Ross.  But this is truly an ensemble endeavor and everyone plays his/her part to perfection.

The direction by Alexander Payne is perfect.  The film is shot in black and white which seems to be appropriate because Hawthorne Nebraska seems to be stuck in a time warp,  no Ipads or smart phones in this movie.  The cinematography is beautifully clear, catching every topographical feature or lack thereof in this small Nebraska town.  When David’s elderly uncles are watching football you can see the stupor on their faces, as they sense life ebbing away.  I wasn’t crazy about Payne’s direction in The Descendants, but his work in this movie is noteworthy.  The movie is long, but the pacing is good and there are just enough jokes to keep it interesting.

Nebraska:  Not corny at all.


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