I'd been waiting a long time to see this "Nebraska." All I've been hearing is that Alexander Payne has made quite the film and that Bruce Dern absolutely slayed it. Last night I actually got to see this, and needless to say, this movie exceed all my expectations. You hear about a road-trip film, in black and white, starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, and you think, and least I did, why? I'm glad I didn't judge this upon face value, as Alexander Payne has brought out fantastic performances and given has us a true gem from last year in film.
"Nebraska" follows the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), as he is determined to travel from his home in Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim $1,000,000 he is told he won. He is picked up by an officer as he's walking along the highway, and is subsequently picked up by his son David (Will Forte). Upon showing David the papers, it is clear that he has received a mail scam letter, in an effort to get him to buy magazines. David takes Woody home where they're greeted by his wife, Kate (June Squibb). She is annoyed with the fact that Woody won't shut up about the money. Woody tries to start walking again while David is at work. When he gets to their house, his brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), already there talking to their dad. Ross tells David it might be time to put him in a home, also that he's been promoted to anchor on the local news. Later that day, David is visited by his ex-girlfriend,who does not want to move back in with him. While this is happening, Kate calls to tell him, that Woody has left again. This is the last straw so to speak, and despite Kate's disapproval, the two decide to take the trip to Nebraska. Along the way they meet up with family and friends. Finally, in the town where Woody grew up, memories of his past resurface, as everyone is abuzz about the return of their former longtime neighbor.
I don't think there was a moment in this movie from start to finish where I wasn't thoroughly engrossed by this film. Maybe the scene with David and his ex-girlfriend was kinda wonky for me. Other than that, it's hard to name a moment where you're bored, not chuckling or getting hit right in the feel box. The writing, by Bob Nelson, is spot on the whole movie. You're laughing at the antics of the older folks in a given scene or the dynamic between Kate and her husband and sons. Then you're just soaking in the directness of Woody's character and the father/son dynamic that is very prevalent and done very well from beginning to end. Everything said and done feels organic and in a movie that has drama and seriousness in spades, there's a great charm and heir of humor layered throughout. This also comes into play with the direction form Alexander Payne. He shoots in a way where you're always involved in a given room or situation, but still focused on the main character of the film. I liked the shooting in black and white as well. As I was preparing for this I was doing research on the film it and reading thoughts on this and one stood out to me. The person was from the Midwest, Iowa I believe, and they said that the "black and white was a great touch, as in the Midwest there's not a ton of color and life. So seeing it in black and white brings out the people more than the surroundings." I'm paraphrasing with they said, but I definitely agree. I grew up in the far west side of Ft. Worth, Texas and went to high school and college about 10-20 miles to the west of there in Aledo and Weatherford. Once you start traveling out there, if you're not immediately in Aledo, or the booming part of Weatherford, there's a whole lot of nothing. Not including color in a movie where there's hardly any to begin with is a great call. The movie still looks great, but this is one where color really is unneeded.
Enough about my humble upbringing, as the acting is this is pretty fantastic all around. Even the smaller roles of townsfolk and family that Woody knew earlier in his life, are integral parts of this film. You meet all aspects of Woody's younger years along this road-trip down memory lane. We see old workplaces, an old flame and even an enemy he didn't know he even had. Then when you get to Woody's family itself, Bob Odenkirk as Ross really stands out. Though not a huge part in the movie, he's almost the leader of the two brothers. He tells it like it is and always takes the lead in a particular situation. Odenkirk is great as you can pair him well with anyone, and Payne does this well. You also notice, especially in the second half of the film, June Squibb as Kate, Woody's wife. Seemingly crabby and annoying, as the movie wears on the love and devotion to Woody really does shine through. She is also a great source of humor as Kate is the type of character that says what's on her mind. Whether loving, humorous or even outlandish, Jane Squibb is a breath of fresh air in a given scene. Moving on with the Grant family, we get to the other son, in David. David is played well by Will Forte and this may be his best performance to date. Will Forte plays the "on the verge of disaster" character well. Dealing with his aging parents, the breakup with his girlfriend and the success of his brother, obviously it all weighs heavy on him. In the movie he states that the trip was almost a way to get away from it all and spend time with is father. Forte doesn't play the character as if he's a sad sack, quite on the contrary. You see his emotion, you see he's struggling and Forte shines in the more humorous scenes in the film. Finally, we get to the anchor of the film, the head of the Grant family in Woody, played perfectly by Bruce Dern. At first glance, with everything going on, you'd think that Woody is a man slowly slipping with age. Once the movie starts wearing on, you can tell that this is not the case. Woody is a man that's been through so much in his long life, he really doesn't have to say a lot. When he does it's direct and poignant. Bruce Dern plays this perfectly because it's wholeheartedly genuine. It doesn't come of as Dern mocking the elderly, but more embracing the fact that this character has been through a lot. Any scene involving Dern and Forte is funny and emotional. Once you start adding in the rest of the family members, there's so much good that comes out from everyone involved in this film.
"Nebraska" is a film that I think will take anyone viewing it by surprise. The concept is very simple, yet it's a story you get enthralled by. Alexander Panye's direction, combined with Bob Nelson's writing, resulted in a well rounded movie. Let's not stop there as the overall look and the acting, especially by Will Forte and Bruce Dern, are amazing. "Nebraska" is a film that will stick with you long after you watch it. It is one that masterfully combines emotion and humor. I don't think anyone that watches "Nebraska" will be in any way disappointed.