While some might find “Nebraska” to be an unmitigated bore, I was touched, surprised, and entertained by this black-and-white, refreshingly naturalistic gem. The people look like real human beings (fat, thin, attractive, ugly) and the situations seem to have come out of an actual person’s life. What could have played off as a timeworn punchline to a familiar sitcom instead proves to be in turn genuinely funny and profoundly affecting.
Well-meaning son David (Will Forte) has problems- namely, his dad’s rapidly approaching senility and consistent fondness for alcohol. Now, director Alexander Payne could have made the old man a wisecracking, skirt-chasing stereotype- a ‘high-on-life’ old lush. But that doesn’t happen. David’s Dad, Woody (Bruce Dern,) remains a satisfyingly grounded character.
Woody keeps on wondering off to collect his one million dollar ‘winnings’ he supposedly earned according to a piece of junk mail. Despite Woody’s heckling wife Kate (June Squibb)’s and disapproving older son Ross (Bob Odenkirk)’s objections, David takes Woody on a drive to Nebraska to prove, once and for all, that Woody has not won anything. Unsurprisingly, the two bond as they embark on a road trip, as they drink at bars (not a good idea for the alcoholic father or the recovering son,) reminisce, argue, and visit family.
One word to describe this film would be ‘bittersweet.’ I was pleased to see that the mom and David’s ex both were significantly overweight. Details like that gave the film a very real vibe. The acting is excellent. I understand Will Forte is mostly in really bad comedies, but he really sold it here. Bruce Dern was really, really good. Really, really, really good.
June Squbb was convincing although I wanted to slap the old biddy silly the entire movie (if she mentions one more man from her past who wanted to ‘get into her bloomers,’ I swear I’ll… aargghh.) Bob Odenkirk, who played in “Breaking Bad” and might be getting his own career-defining spin-off, “Better Call Saul,” made the most of a smallish role. His ‘fight scene’ with one of his thuggish cousins had me in hysterics.
The conclusion of “Nebraska” is unexpected but very moving. You end up treasuring David more as a character than you would have had it ended differently. I think this was an improvement upon his last film, “The Descendents.” The former was a good movie too but I think this dares to be a little more different. Maybe people will look past the black and white and the slow pace and see what I saw in it. That is my hope for this movie.