Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacey Keach, Bob Odenkirk
Director: Alexander Payne
Synopsis: Old and despondent mid-westerner, Woody Grant (Dern), is on an odyssey from Montana to Nebraska to claim his million dollar winnings from a scam sweepstakes. He enlists (or by way of guilt) his son (Forte) to drive him and before they can claim his prize, they stop for a little family reunion of follies when they stay in Woody’s town that he grew up.
What Works: Alexander Payne’s dry midwestern humor is always a sure thing for me. While the Coen Brothers may take a more cynical mocking approach to midwesterners in comedies like Raising Arizona or Fargo, Payne’s comedies are sweeter and more sincere to the subject matter of “small-town” folk. While some may see the simpleton-ness to their way of thinking and living in Nebraska or About Schmidt, there’s a cute sentimentality to the people in his works; a kind of Edward Hopper or Norman Rockwell approach to the “small-town” American people.
Bruce Dern is getting a lot of better-late-than-never accolades to his acting prowess and its all for good reason. As Woody he is playing an old wizened, tired of life sort of man. No more purpose or has very little to do other than drink and watch football. The sweepstakes gives the old man a last ditch effort of something to do and by-gum he’s gonna go and get it come hell or high water. If you’re familiar with Dern and his acting ability than do yourself a favor and check out this film.
However, he’s closely overshadowed by June Squibb, who plays his no-nonsense, tough as nails wife. I wasn’t too familiar with Squibb’s pervious work but damn, was she dynamite in this. Funny, sharp, sarcastic as well as loving and protecting of her family. And I would venture to say that Will Forte’s first attempt at dramatic acting wasn’t too shabby either.
What Doesn’t Work: I would say that the sentimentality was a bit too much. For me, the fact that ending went the way it did was not completely on par with what I would liked. Actually that’s not really fair to say. In other words, this story went the way it did because of absolute unconditional love for family. To put up with such a crazy coot and to drive 100s of miles for nothing just to appease him is a grand sweet gesture. I, being more of a cynical and no-nonsense sort for crazy relatives, would’ve expected an ending where everyone losses or there’s a huge gap of relations based on this wild goose chase. But there’s way too many sad and depressing movies out there with tragic “more realistic” endings. Sure Woody didn’t get his million dollars. He probably didn’t even believe he was really a winner but just wanted some quality time with his estranged son and family before it was too late. So if you like sappy endings that seem a bit too doubtful than the ending will be fine to you.
Overall: As a metaphor for a purposeful, quality life, Nebraska knocks it out of the park. I said earlier that Woody may have known all along that his winnings was a scam but when he goes back to his old hometown and word gets out that he may have been a millionaire, all his old chums and enemies greet him as a hero. For once this old-timer has a lot of friends and is getting the attention he never got in his whole life. It was said many times in the film that he was the salt-of-the-earth and taken advantage of when it came to favors from people, like people would borrow something from him and never give it back or he would do a job and not get paid nearly enough what was due. But also it painted Woody as a dead-beat alcoholic dad who paid very little attention to his sons and wife and was pretty much miserable his whole life. But despite these character traits his family still accepted him and went along with him to Nebraska because of familial appreciation and love.
While in his parent’s old hometown, Forte meets a lot of their old friends and he learns a lot more about his father than he thought and makes him appreciate the man a little more. As a son of an absentee alcoholic father myself, this hit home a little deep since I know what it feels like to take a family member for granted or think poorly on someone but learning when I got older that life is complicated, awkward at times, tough as shit and expectations are sorely misguided. When your parents were young they may have had a completely different personality and life threw them a huge curveball.
Score: 9 Unreturned Air Compressors (out of 10)