|A telling still from the Alexander Payne's Nebraska, in which the father-son leads visit the old father's childhood home|
Nebraska is great American director Alexander Payne's (The Descendants (2011)) newest film, which is nominated for 6 Oscars at the coming award show.
It is about an old man, Woody, who has received a letter in the mail that says he has won a million dollars. Even though his wife and sons keep telling him that it's bogus, Woody keeps leaving home to try to walk to Nebraska from his home in Montana to get his prize. Finally his one son decides to drive his old man to Nebraska to end his delusion. Their trip involve visiting old friends and family and places that used to be something that they aren't anymore.
The Nebraska script is the first that has turned into a feature film for its now Oscar-nominated writer Bob Nelson. Payne had been presented with it during production of the brilliant About Schmidt (2002), but didn't want to do another road movie after Sideways (2004), which he was prepping at the time, so he made The Descendants (2011) first, and then came to Nebraska. It's a really fine story filled with very real characters.
Breathing life into them are Will Forte (MacGruber (2010)), previously mostly known as a comedian, June Squibb, - who was also marvelous in a smaller, yet somewhat similar role in About Schmidt, - and in the lead Bruce Dern (Coming Home (1978)). Dern gives a totally believable performance as a bewildered, aging alcoholic.
As usual in Payne's universe, sentimentality isn't on the menu. But there are still many moving scenes in Nebraska; of family, of father and son, of landscapes. Scenes that are recognizable and strike emotional chords in audiences in countries all over the world, even if the characters sometimes act crudely and unlike what mainstay Hollywood dramas usually dictate.
The film is shot in black and white by Payne regular Phedon Papamichael (Walk the Line (2005)) to heighten the mythic, arch-typical qualities of the land, and the vastness of the outstretched plains adds an extra, melancholic quality to Nebraska, a film that already seems transfused with a sadness of time; of the past far which seems far behind, and of the decrepit aging process that is advanced and only getting worse for the lead, Woody. So many of the looks we get in Nebraska from the characters are looks of a certain resignation. The resignation over age.
Yet there is much that also lifts Nebraska from this trench of old age. Read more to learn what that is.
Alexander Payne directs Bruce Dern for Nebraska
That, of course, is its humor. Particularly funny scenes include the SPOILER living room scenes of male family behavior; the scenes concerning Woody's losing his teeth; and the scene of Woody's sons, (the other one professionally played by Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad (2009-2013))), stealing back an air compressor for their father, (or so they think.)
The film also has a great ending that also lifts it up into some light, so that it never feels depressing. Forte, Dern, Payne and Nelson have achieved a very fine, tender ending to this fine, fine film.
Nebraska brought to my mind films like Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971), - for the B/W photography and nostalgic melancholia, - and David Lynch's The Straight Story (1999), because it is also a marvelous movie about an old geezer crossing the country with a clear purpose in mind.
Nebraska feels almost like a perfect movie, and I loved to watch it and was totally in its grip and treasured every minute of it. I didn't feel the emotional punch at the end that I felt from watching Sideways or The Descendants, but it is still a great movie, and I recommend it for all.
Unfortunately, I don't think that Payne et. al. have done themselves a favor with their PR for the film. After going against Paramount's wishes in casting Dern, in casting Forte (none of them real draws), and by filming in B/W, couldn't they at least have made some decent posters to try to get some audience for their film?
This main poster for Nebraska is pretty dull, I think, and unless you are a Payne-fan as I, who'll see anything he makes no matter what the posters look like, you'll probably browse on and go see another film.
The numbers indicate so as well, which is a damn shame.
Regardless, I can't wait to see what Payne is going to do next, and I just hope he'll sell it with a better poster next time.
Alexander Payne: About Schmidt (2002) or, Dear Ndugu ...
The crummy poster for Alexander Payne's Nebraska
Watch this trailer and then go watch this movie! Or stream it or buy it on DVD. It's sound advice!
Budget: 12 mil. $
Box office: 15.1 mil. $
= Far from spectacular
What do you think of Nebraska?