I can say right off the bat that Nebraska is not for everyone. On the surface it’s slow, uneventful, and plain.
I loved it.
Allow me to set the scene. Ashley and I walk into a small theatre of about 150 seats. After getting into our seats and shucking off all the winter gear, (aka after all that effort we’re NOT moving from this spot) two women probably in their mid 50s sit directly behind us. Chatty Kathys doesn’t even begin to do them justice. But I digress.
Nebraska follows Woody Grant, a somber, spacey, booze-ridden man and his son, David, as they traverse the Midwest from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.
Sounds like an emotional father-and-son-bonding movie on the open road right? However, after Woody and David stop to see Mt. Rushmore with a “meh” as the general consensus, I knew I was in for something different. (A grateful shout out to writer Bob Nelson for mercilessly sparing us from road trip clichés.) In fact, a large part of the movie takes place in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska. Here we get a sense of who Woody is, or rather was, through his family, people from around town, and a visit to his childhood home. And once the town hears of Woody’s supposed good fortune, all kinds of characters come out of the woodwork. “Oh Joyce, I think this is just a hoot” says my friend from behind.
David is as stagnant as they come. Portrayed by the uncharacteristically muted Will Forte, (formerly from Saturday Night Live- pardon me while I pick my jaw up off the ground) the only time David breaks his apathetic exterior is in defense of his father. Usually to his mother, Kate, played by June Squibb who is out of this world feisty. She brings so much sass and a razor sharp tongue all the while being so endearing. Even as she tauntingly shows off her knickers at the Grant family plot. David is an observer and a floater, with a quip here and there to break the tension, and Forte does well at playing completely, well, average.
But the real star of Nebraska is none other than Bruce Dern and his disarmingly charming and irritating-in-the-best-way-possible performance as Woody Grant. Dern has the ability to hold your attention just by shifting his weight which, in a slow paced movie such as this, is a necessary skill. Every movement, every look, has meaning behind it. The interesting part is that you’re never exactly sure what that meaning is. Dern brings so much emotion and complexity to a man who, to the rest of the outside world, appears to be so painfully plain. When they visit Woody’s childhood home, you get the feeling from the broken furniture and shattered glass that no one was ever really happy here. And even though Woody is old, drunk, and possibly dealing with early stage Alzheimer’s or dementia, there’s a real solemn loss of innocence in his face that just breaks your heart.
The movie is in black and white, totally embodying how the world sees these people and really, how they see the world. The Grants live a mundane, monotonous life. Nebraska is all about finding something, anything that breaks the retched monotony and spurs you on. And let me tell you, there are some phenomenal comedic moments in this movie involving lost dentures, stolen generators, and a discussion about Chevys. The laugh out loud juxtaposed against the crippling sadness of Woody’s life makes the story all the more poignant.
Nebraska is an incredibly human movie. There’s almost a documentary aspect to it. And though I do not think it will win the Oscar, it is definitely worth a watch. As my friend says, “it’s a scream!”
Stay tuned for my review of 12 Years a Slave on Thursday!
Have a happy Tuesday,
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