Charming NEBRASKA sneaks up on you then firmly lodges itself in your heart. Not Nebraska the state, but NEBRASKA the low-key, low-color — no color, in fact — film currently garnering kudos from critics across the country.
I had the opportunity to screen NEBRASKA at the Life@50+ Conference in October as part of the Movies For Grownups film series from AARP. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the black-and-white film from Alexander Payne and starring Bruce Dern. I was happy to give it a shot, though, considering it was, well, from Alexander Payne (of SIDEWAYS and THE DESCENDANTS fame) and starring Bruce Dern.
I'm so glad I did.
From the opening scenes on through the ending credits, my affection for NEBRASKA steadily grew deeper and more undeniable. Right away I found myself uttering a quiet heh, heh at the wacky actions of and interactions between characters. My responses soon grew into an Awww... here and a guffaw there. By film's end, I exclaimed — inside to myself, as I'd viewed it alone — "Man, I love that movie..." and looked forward to seeing it again with Jim when it opened in theaters at home.
NEBRASKA is the story of Woody, a cantankerous and possibly delusional fella who receives a letter stating he's won a million dollars. Problem is, Woody lives in Billings, Montana, 750 miles from the sweepstakes office in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he must pick up his prize in person. His son David, played by Will Forte, reluctantly agrees to drive his frustrating and distant father to claim his winnings — much to the chagrin of his mother Kate, brilliantly played by June Squibb.
The father-son road trip takes Woody and David through Woody's home town, where some well-meaning — and some not so well-meaning — friends and family members take Woody to task over his unexpected good fortune. Along the way, David gains a new understanding of his relentlessly unapproachable and disapproving father.
What I loved most about the film: The love and loathing between father and son, husband and wife is all tangled up in the story in deadpan yet realistic and heart-rending ways. It's impossible to not be exasperated by nearly every character at various times yet equally touched by the tender moments underscoring their motives and actions — or inaction.
The themes of adult children looking anew at elderly parents and elderly parents taking a hard look at themselves resonated for me, made me consider the sometimes confounding actions and back stories of my own parents.
And I loved seeing Bob Odenkirk (Saul from "Breaking Bad") perfectly executing the part of Woody's other son, brother to Will Forte.
Speaking of Will Forte, I initially thought I'd simply have to overlook the casting of him as Woody's son, for I was never a fan of Forte on "Saturday Night Live." Surprisingly though, it took just a few scenes for me to be thoroughly impressed with his subtle and touching performance.
All the performances are spectacular — in understated ways. NEBRASKA itself is an understated film that seems to move most viewers in magnificent ways. Accolades from the press are innumerable, and NEBRASKA has so far earned 47 nominations — and 22 wins — in several major award categories, from Cannes to the Golden Globes and more.
NEBRASKA (rated R for some language) is now playing in select theaters. Find out more on the official NEBRASKA website.
What are your thoughts on Nebraska — the film or the state?