Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb
Director: Alexander Payne
Screenplay: Bob Nelson
Drama, Rated: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: December 6, 2013
Greg, what’s this? Another movie about Lincoln?
Nope. It’s Bruce Dern and a million dollar prize. Let’s Recap.
Nebraska begins with Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) walking along a highway in Billings, Montana. Woody has just received notification in the mail that he has won a $1 million sweepstakes prize and must travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his winnings. His son, David (Will Forte) finds Woody and tries to convince him that the sweepstakes is a scam. Woody refuses to believe him and will do everything in his power to get to Lincoln, even if it means walking the entire distance of 700 miles.
But David takes pity on his alcoholic dad and agrees to drive him to Nebraska. They stop along the way in Woody’s home town of Hawthorne where they meet a bunch of Woody’s old friends and family. Hawthorne hasn’t changed much since Woody left it 30 years ago. Everyone treats Woody pretty much as they did when he lived there – dismissively. Things are going pretty well when Woody lets slip that he’s won a million dollars. That’s when the tides change and people’s true feelings come out.
Greg, Nebraska is a moving story about a son’s journey of discovery with his aging father. This movie is, simply, a story about a man’s love for his father and how that love is tested. It is tested by the father’s alcoholism, the father’s growing dementia, and some secrets about the father’s past. Through it all, we see how love prevails.
The son David undergoes a subtle but important transformation in this story. At first, he indulges the father’s get-rich fantasy as simply a way of keeping the peace. But as the story unfolds, the son develops a growing awareness of the deeper significance of his father’s dream. This revelation about the journey becomes a breakthrough that does more than just bring about the son’s own personal transformation. It also leads to a deepened and more meaningful relationship with his father.
You’re right, Scott. David has always seen his father as a flawed man and it seems he never really connected with his dad. He believes that Woody was not a very good father. But by travelling back to Woody’s boyhood home, he begins to realize that Woody had a difficult childhood and was, perhaps, more well-adjusted than he at first thought.
This is a textured movie. We’re witness to sibling rivalry between the two brothers David and Ross (Bob Odenkirk). David’s mother Kate (June Squibb) thinks Woody is senile and should be put in a home. She constantly complains that Woody is no help around the house. And the portrait director Alexander Payne paints of small town America is brought home with the silent viewing of football games or sitting on the roadside watching cars go by. It was a very familiar picture for me.
There is so much to like about this film. Many good choices were made by director Alexander Payne. For starters, the decision to film Nebraska in black and white enables the movie to capture the bleakness of the wintry landscape of the upper midwest. It also underscores the simplicity and transparency of the people that David and Woody meet. The cinematography in Nebraska is stark, cold, sweeping, and as big and as desolate as the prairie land itself.
Casting Will Forte as David was also a stroke of genius. Forte is highly effective in portraying the sweet innocence of David as well as the sadness and love that David has for his father. It’s a love that is simple on the surface but we discover that it is also a love riddled with sad complexities. Bruce Dern is brilliant in his role as Woody, a man who is both endearing and pitiful at the same time. Your description of the film and its characters as “textured” is right on the money, Greg.
Woody’s constant return to walking the highways reminded me of The Odyssey. He kept moving from place to place. Each time he landed there were more monsters to fight.
I thought Nebraska was a wonderful story told in the simplest terms about simple people. I enjoyed getting to know Woody step-by-step in his journey. For a good bit of storytelling without being saccharine or patronizing, I give Nebraska 5 out of 5 Reels. This is not a classic hero’s journey. David seemed to be more transformed than did Woody. I award the pair of them 4 out of 5 Heroes.
Woody may have been unable to change given his growing dementia, but he did play a significant role in bringing about his son David’s transformation. David turns out to be one of the most likeable characters in the movies in the year 2013. The hero journey to Nebraska allows him to grow in ways he never could have anticipated. There is a newfound wisdom and compassion for his father that only this journey could reveal. I agree that his character earns 4 Heroes out of 5.
The movie itself is a terrific artistic achievement in the way it was filmed, directed, and executed by everyone involved. The look and feel of Nebraska is unlike anything we’ve seen in the movies this year. I was going to give it 4 out of 5 Reels, but Greg, you’ve helped convince me that it deserves the entire 5 Reels.