Cert: 15 Runtime: 115 mins Director: Alexander Payne Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb
I ain’t fiddlin’ with no cow titties. I’m a city girl!
Nebraska has had critics at the tip of their heels over the last few months, it has been nominated for six academy awards. It hasn’t really grabbed my attention, but with the Oscars coming ever closer I guess I had no choice. What is Nebraska? A grumpy old man drags his son in search of a fortune in this bittersweet road comedy. Cranky, dishevelled and alcoholic Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) has just won a million dollars. He knows this because he’s received a letter from Mega Sweepstakes Marketing. Woody’s long-suffering adult son David (Will Forte) insists it’s a scam. But the old man is adamant that he must travel to the company’s Nebraska HQ to claim his loot. So begins a comic father-son road trip into America’s fast-vanishing Midwest as David tries to connect with his stubborn dad. Along the way, they make a pit-stop in Woody’s home town. Matters are complicated when word of his ‘fortune’ quickly spreads among greedy family and friends. The greatest joy of Nebraska is its deft, wonderful way of exploring and deepening its characters. Payne, working off a spare, unsentimental script by Bob Nelson, allows the Grant family to live and breathe, their insecurities and fears slipping through the cracks of humdrum, everyday life. Even Kate and Ross, who turn up for the unscheduled family reunion, have a depth that goes beyond their supporting roles.
As Kate fusses around Woody, casually insulting him in an almost shocking fashion, it’s easy to see the years of love, frustration and life they share.Dern has been rightfully lauded for his turn as Woody: he drifts through the film, trailing a shock of unruly white hair and a puzzling determination to get to Nebraska come hell or high water. But what impresses is Dern’s ability to cut a figure both noble and utterly ordinary: an old man, lost in time and within himself, determined to make one final stand. Forte, too, is marvellous – he sheds all signs of his better-known comedic persona as the sweet, caring David, who decides to take what he knows is a futile trip just to spend some time with his dad. It’s a shame that awards season has passed him by; Forte is the tremulous heart of Nebraska, just as Dern is its spunky soul.Shot in stunning, velvety black-and-white, Nebraska might seem like a throwback to simpler times. In a way, it is. This is an age-old story of family, love and connection: of missing the man beneath the memories, of not always understanding the people you’ve lived with all your life. But the film also has a darker, more modern heart, buried beneath the script’s sad, bittersweet shades of grey. Woody is drawn by promises of wealth that are plainly false, a comment – one might think – on the faltering American economy of the past few years. It’s a fine balancing act that Payne pulls off wonderfully well.