• FILM

  • SEARCH FOR

Nebraska

Nebraska

Directed by Alexander Payne. Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard. (2013, R, 115 min.)

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Nov. 29, 2013

Seventysomething Woody Grant (Dern) has the head-first, quick-step dodder of a toddler, dangerously fast and ever on the edge of a tumble. And a tumble is surely coming: It has to be, with Woody fixing all his hopes on the fantasy payout of a Publisher’s Clearing House-like scam. Is Woody addled by dementia or just clinging to a desperate dream at the end of his life? His exhausted, crabby wife Kate (Squibb) has no patience for her husband, a drunk and a disappointment, but son David (Forte) agrees to drive him from their home in Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., where Woody is convinced a $1 million prize is waiting for him – a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Only the rainbow is an endless interstate, rendered in ugly grays (the film was shot in color and converted to black and white in post), and if anybody’s the troll in this scenario, it’s Woody; he even has the same finger-in-the-socket shock of hair of those plastic troll dolls every Eighties kid collected. A more conventional narrative would make the trip a redemptive one – “asshole dad bonds with estranged son, becomes a better man in the process” – but Nebraska, scripted by Bob Nelson, is rather admirably about David coming to peace with his father, not the other way around.

A dry and exacting humorist whose films include The Descendants, About Schmidt, and Sideways, Alexander Payne makes observational comedies from an arch remove. His funny, detached picture of Midwesterners here is par for the course (just because the Nebraska-born and -bred director is of the people doesn’t mean he isn’t smirking at them), but he gets great work and genuine feeling out of his lead actors. His eyebrows slanted like two sides of a teepee into an expression of constant distress, SNL alum Forte is a surprising fount of melancholy and frustrated ambition, while Dern takes a tough part – a man of few words who might not be all there – and masterfully controls his body to convey Woody’s inner depths.

READ MORE
More Alexander Payne Films
The Descendants
George Clooney teams up with Sideways filmmaker Alexander Payne for this funny but tender story that's a little too smug for its own good.

Kimberley Jones, Nov. 25, 2011

Sideways
A sophisticated date movie about male midlife malcontents and the women who love them, from the director of Election.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Nov. 5, 2004

More by Kimberley Jones
Life, Animated
The magic of Disney unlocks a boy's mind

July 22, 2016

Ghostbusters
Controversy aside, this reboot fails to hit the mark

July 15, 2016

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Nebraska, Alexander Payne, Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
This content has not been formatted for this window size.
Please increase the size of your browser window, or revisit this page on a mobile device.
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)