If I had to choose one word out if the English language to describe the film ‘Nebraska‘, it’s this: straightforward. Plain, simple, and completely without flash and pizzazz. But that’s exactly what the film is…minus the part about the lack of pizzazz. There’s plenty of it, but not in a showy look-at-me-now sort of way. I didn’t know what to expect from ‘Nebraska‘, but of the nine Best Picture nominees this year, this one surprised me tune most and I’m so glad it did.
In all honesty, ‘Nebraska‘ is a bleak story about a typical Midwestern family that has nothing really going for them. Woody’s two sons lead ordinary lives as an appliance salesman and a news reporter. But Woody and Kate, our two main characters, really have nothing to live for…until a letter comes in the mail informing Woody he should come to Lincoln, Nebraska to see if he’s won a million dollar prize. Woody’s rather always-sad son, David, gives him all the reasons why they can’t go: it’s a scam, Woody can’t handle that long of a drive, why would he need a million dollars anyway, his job… You get the picture.
But pretty soon, the film takes a lovely turn into a father-son road trip. The two make a stop in Woody’s hometown where everyone soon catches wind of Woody’s million dollar prize. It doesn’t take long for his family and friends to start asking for “repayment” on debts long overdue between them and Woody.
By now you’re probably wondering why the heck I would call a pretty standard story like this charming. Shot in black and white, ‘Nebraska’ is what it is. Director Alexander Payne doesn’t milk the story or its characters to give us more emotion than they need. Bruce Dern hands in the performance of a lifetime as a man stubborn as a mule who doesn’t speak more than is needed. The magic of Dern’s performance is all in the vacant stare he often wears. Watching him, you never know if he’s in an old age senile moment, about to burst into tears, or merely off in thought. Its look of being anywhere but in reality is believable each time, and its brilliant. June Squibb is hilarious as Woody’s wife, Kate. Brutally honest with her words, but she’s a woman with fierce loyalty to the men in her life (even though every man in Woody’s hometown wanted in her trousers once upon a time). For me, the most surprising performance comes from Will Forte. Often cast as the silly, comedic relief in B-rated films, it’s actually refreshing to see him take a hard bite into such a serious, somewhat depressing, and often darkly funny, film.
As depressing as ‘Nebraska‘ can be at its deepest moment, there’s a lot of humor and relatable moments peppered just as often. Here are my Top 10 moments from ‘Nebraska‘: (Warning! Spoilers ahead!)
1.) The quest for the air compressor
2.) The search for Woody’s teeth after walking home from the bar (not drinking!)
3.) Will Forte actually acting a real role, and not the typical dumb, sort-of funny guy
4.) A family get-together means staring soundlessly at the football game while drinking a beer and grunting one word answers at each other
5.) The films’ entirety is shot in black and white
6.) Kate lifting her dress and flashing a gravestone of a past lover in the cemetery
7.) An unspoken, but certainly still there, longing love story between Peg Bender and Woodrow Grant
8.) Kate’s moment of smoothing Woody’s hair, lovingly kissing him on the cheek, and with emotion lodged in her throat, said I love you with three words: ‘You big idiot.’ (Honorable Mention: Her mad devotion to the men in her family!)
9.) A trucker hat with the words ‘Prize Winner’ emblazoned across it
10.) Woody driving down his hometowns main street behind the wheel of his new truck
If there was one thing I walked away with after watching ‘Nebraska’, it was a renewed appreciation for my parents and the time spent with them. Hell, I should probably be spending more time with them. They’re creeping up there in age. Maybe I should make the offer of a road trip with my dad, just to see what he would say. There’s got to be a place he’s always wanted to go, but hasn’t due to the course of his life.