I have been appreciative of Alexander Payne’s quirky films (Sideways, The Descendants) since he began with Citizen Ruth, and Nebraska does not disappoint. This time we have a delusional father (Bruce Dern) and his big-hearted son (Will Forte of SNL) on a road trip. The father, Woody, thinks a letter he received in the mail announcing that he won a million dollars is real. His son David knows it is a scam, but after trying and failing to talk Dad out of walking to Nebraska to claim his winnings, he decides to take a long weekend and drive him there to prove it is fake. And of course things do not go as easily as one would hope.
Not far into their trip through a series of unfortunate events the two of them end up in Dad’s very small hometown where before they can turn around, everyone knows about the million dollars, though not that it is a scam, and soon the true nature of friends and family comes to the surface. Everyone thinks they deserve a cut of the action. Stacy Keach as Woody’s old pal and business partner is particularly unctuous threatening David if he doesn’t get what he think he is owed. But through the experience, David learns all kinds of things about his tight lipped father and grows to appreciate the old guy. At one point his mother also joins them, and the mouth on that woman! She has something to say about just about everyone, and very little of it is nice. But she, too, is filling in the blanks of Woody’s younger life and placing him in a context where his son can see him in a whole new light.
Nebraska balances the petty and delusional with some very funny and sweet. I was not sure about Will Forte to start with, knowing him only from Saturday Night Live, and not being all that memorable there, but he is really pretty good as the son who thinks he knows his father, but grows as he sees where and what shaped the man. Bruce Dern turns in a star performance as the doddering old alcoholic who may or may not be all there. And June Squibb as the foul mouthed mom grows on you. It is a quiet film and beautifully shot. It is in black and white, which is perfect for capturing the desolate landscapes that surround the small town where the bulk of the film takes place. It is ultimately an uplifting film and I would recommend it to those who like the other Alexander Payne flicks, and it would be a good film for fathers and sons to share. Must love the quirky!