Excellent (4 stars)
Rated R for profanity
Running time: 115 minutes
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
77-year-old Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an addlepated alcoholic whose brain is so bent out of shape that he’s convinced he’s struck it rich after getting one of those mass-produced letters in the mail announcing that you’ve just won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes. Nevertheless, he soon sets out on foot by himself from Billings, Montana to collect his grand prize in Omaha, Nebraska.
Once it’s clear that the cantankerous curmudgeon can’t be talked out of that foolhardy endeavor, son David (Will Forte) opts to drive his dad there. This doesn’t sit well with Woody’s acid-tongued wife, Kate (June Squibb), who’s too well-grounded in reality to indulge the old coot’s nonsense.
However, as futile as the quest might sound, the pair’s ensuing sojourn across four states does prove rather fruitful. After all, not only does it afford father and son a chance to spend some quality time together, but they also get to catch up with lots of long-lost friends and relatives they visit along the way.
Eventually, Kate and elder son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), join them en route, grudgingly making the long jaunt a family affair. It’s understandably hard for them to be enthusiastic about an outing inspired by a fraudulent marketing scheme.
Still, sometimes, getting there is all the fun, as is the case with Nebraska, a nostalgic road trip unfolding against the barren backdrop of the heartland’s crumbling infrastructure. The film was directed by two-time Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (for writing Sideways and The Descendants) whose decision to shoot the picture in black-and-white was nothing short of a stroke of genius.
For the lack of color only serves to further emphasize the absence of hope in a rural region left devastated by the failure of its factory, farm and small town life. It’s no wonder, then, that some of the pour souls the Grants encounter might seize on Woody’s pipe dream as a way of alleviating their own misery.
Featuring a career performance by Bruce Dern destined to be remembered during awards season, Nebraska is a lighthearted character study which, ironically, offers a stone, cold sober look at the downsizing of the Midwest’s American Dream.