Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, and Bob Odenkirk
Directed by Alexander Payne
I'd leave the review at that and just let you discover for yourself the simplicity of Alexander Payne's gem (charmingly written by Bob Nelson in his screenwriting debut), but I do feel like I need to give this flick a bit more of its very deserving due.
On the surface, Nebraska is the simplest of stories. An older man receives one of those junk mailings that says he's won a million dollars (which he obviously hasn't) and, despite his family telling him otherwise, sets off to trek from Missouri to Nebraska to claim his prize. With a stubborn father hellbent on picking up his winnings, his son decides to drive his dad to Nebraska, along the way discovering things about his father that he never knew.
A road trip of discovery. You'd think, considering that we've seen this tale told dozens of times before, that Nebraska wouldn't resonate at all, but it absolutely works. Bruce Dern plays the cantankerous father Woody, a guy who likes to imbibe quite often and, on the surface, seems as if he's headed down that Alzheimers-esque road of quiet forgetfulness. Yet despite the slow-paced gait and the mumbled words, Woody's certainly "all there" -- yes, he may not be thinking quite as clearly as in his youth, but Dern shows us Woody hasn't forgotten the pain of his past and the hope for his future (however false that hope may be).
Countering Woody's millionaire aspirations is his son David's attempts to bring his father back to reality. Thanks to Will Forte, best known for his work on Saturday Night Live, the audience gets to see Woody through his son's eyes -- a son that respects his father, but also ponders what made the man into the hard-drinking, perhaps rough-around-the-edges, guy that raised him. Forte's role here is understated, yet important. It's obvious he finds the whole premise a bit ridiculous, but he recognizes that his worn-down and beleaguered father feels that he needs to accomplish this task in order to provide for his family.
(June Squibb plays the hilarious wife who can't understand why her son David is kowtowing to his crazy father's whims and she's certainly a hoot whenever she's onscreen. Kudos also to Bob Odenkirk who has a nice role as David's older (and more successful) brother.)
The problem with this review of Nebraska is that I'm really not getting across anything I want to get across about this movie. I've moderately praised Bruce Dern's great performance. I've placed my comments about the marvelous June Squibb's performance in parentheses (parentheses!?!?) seemingly indicating that I didn't enjoy her role nearly as much as I did. I've thrown one positive sentence the screenwriter's way. I haven't even touched on director Alexander Payne's ability to capture small town Americana in a way that feels both entirely respectful and the tiniest bit mocking at the same time (in beautiful black-and-white cinematography no less). I've got so much I'd like to say about Nebraska, but I can't find the words to say it. In fact, I've been sitting on this review for OVER TWO WEEKS now, not being able to formulate the words as to why I truly enjoyed this film as much as I did.
Perhaps the reason is because the beauty of Nebraska lies in its authentic simplicity and sometimes authentic simplicity is incredibly tough to describe simply because it feels so goshdarn real. It's a film that never once feels forced, yet instead feels like a slice of life.
So instead, I'll stop this review here and reiterate my first sentence of this review: Nebraska is a beautifully sweet film that, despite this incredibly lukewarm and disappointing critique, is positively worth seeing.
The RyMickey Rating: A-