Alexander Payne is one of my favorite directors working today. His films tend to look at a side of America that I find fascinating. I would describe it as the eccentric beauty present in small-town USA. In that vein comes Nebraska a film that has all the best elements of Payne. It has moments of unexpected humor, a male protagonist going through some issues in life etc. His directorial touch is more visible here than in a film like The Descendants.
Nebraska is the story of Woody Grant who is trying to make his way from Montana to the titular state to win a ‘prize.’ His son joins him for the ride and it appears to be a road film almost an odd couple type. But the script my Bob Nelson delves so beautifully into the motivation behind Woody’s actions. This isn’t just an old man who is fooled by a magazine scam. This is a man who is having trouble confronting his own old age.
The other theme of this film is the money that comes along with the ‘prize.’ Nebraska does a great job of showing how people around you react when they realize you have some ‘money’. Old friends start appearing, relatives start showering you with attention. But what is it all for? The film gives some of the sharpest dialogues to Woody’s wife played by June Squibb. She is able to see the hypocrisy for what it is and the film’s biggest laughs belong to her.
Bruce Dern who plays Woody imbibes the character so well you cannot distinguish the two. This is one of the best bits of casting that I’ve seen done this decade. He is simply the perfect choice and his relationship with his wife is unique but endearing. They may appear to hate each other but deep down there is a sense of love. This juxtaposition is brought out beautifully by the way their scenes are set up. She loves to talk and it looks he isn’t listening but they understand each other perfectly.
Will Forte is another revelation in Nebraska as he brings out a side to him that I’ve never seen before. The balance he finds between exasperation and empathy is beautiful to watch. I guess it’s a way of saying that we can’t love people for what we want them to be but for what they are. Perhaps I am reading too much into this but Nebraska is a moving, funny and empathetic portrayal of old age that deserves to be cherished.
Until next time, bye.