Posted by G. Raymond Leavold
26. Feb, 2014
‘He just believes stuff people tell him,’ Will Forte’s character, David Grant says sombrely of his father, Woody towards the end of Nebraska, a moment that opens our eyes up to just how cynical and untrue the world has become, particularly to people who are so desperate to believe in it.
Will Forte plays small town nice guy David whose father’s mind is fading thanks to years of alcoholism. The film opens with Woody walking along the highway on his way to Nebraska to collect a bogus million dollar prize that he received in the mail. Not to be placated, Woody keeps disappearing from the family home to begin his journey. David, feeling sorry for the way his father’s life has turned out, decides to let him live out this fantasy for a few days, taking him on a road trip to collect his ‘prize’ two states over, stopping in on some friends and family on the way.
But when Woody tells some old drinking buddies of his good fortune, suddenly everyone comes knocking with stories of past debts. The most forceful of these is Woody’s old business pal, played by an incredibly imposing Stacy Keach (who does a really great karaoke rendition of Elvis’ ‘In the Ghetto’). Try as he might, David can’t seem to convince anyone that Woody’s money will never materialise, and things turn a little ugly.
One might think that this is par-for-the-course for director, Alexander Payne. There is nothing too difficult in the material, but that is not at all to detract of what it achieves. Though drama and comedy are tempered really well, the real drive of the film; David trying to finally forge a bond with a father who has been mentally absent from most his life thanks to alcohol abuse, and who now doesn’t have much time left, keeps us rooting for the characters, to the point where we want so badly for Woody to receive the million dollars we know he has not won.
Shot in the West and Mid-Western United States, and filmed in Black and White, Nebraska is a beautiful film, aesthetically and otherwise. Its performances are gentle yet stark, much like the look of the film. It’s nice to see actor Bruce Dern after such a criminally long absence from quality acting roles. His aloof performance in this is endearing, as is his brutally human stubbornness.
Comedian Will Forte delivers a surprisingly restrained performance and is just a really likable actor to watch. But it is June Squibb, playing Woody’s long suffering wife, who steals the show with her hilariously feisty attitude as a no-nonsense, improper elderly lady.
This film didn’t take the familiar route that so many films about elderly characters do. With a film like Last Vegas just out, there is nothing as tired as the notions of ‘reclaiming youth’ and ‘taking life by the balls’, and Nebraska thankfully does not use these overdone themes. If there is one thing you can take away from the film, it’s that everybody deserves to feel a little bit of respect, especially those who have lived most of their lives without it.
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