Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Nebraska is not a road trip movie, it's not a character study, it's not a father and son tale. The film is about focusing on what you want and remain determined until you get what you want, but be realize that getting what you want may lead to disappointment.
Bruce Dern plays Woody, an aging married man and father of two adult sons. He is well into his golden years and lived a hard life following his time serving in the Korean War. He is also one of the youngest of a large family of brothers. He grew up in Hawthorne, Nebraska but raised his family in Billings, Montana. After Woody receives a letter from a magazine company telling him that he's won a million dollars, he is bound and determined to travel from Montana to Nebraska to pick up his winnings. His younger son, David (Will Forte) agrees to drive Woody there, since he can no longer drive.
On their way, they two end up staying with family in Hawthorne and he is reunited with family and old friends from the neighborhood. Through some miscommunication, Woody becomes very popular in the town and everyone wants some attention from him. Through these interactions, we learn more about him and the lives he's affected throughout his life. This is all contrary to him, a man who is not prone to speaking much and does not seem to carry even an ounce of sentimentality. Whether due to mental illness, aging senility or just personality, Woody is only semi-present in the here and now.
The scene stealer is Woody's wife, played by June Squibb. She is the balance in the relationship. Where Woody rarely speaks, his wife Kate always speaks her mind and has an opinion about everything. As with many couples married for decades, she seems exhausted by Woody but deep down still cares about the man and will defend him when necessary.
Alexander Payne films are notable for portraying real-life and reflecting on some of the more depressing aspects of living. My experience with his other films are that the characters are solid, the performances are strong and the film will leave you feeling sad but satisfied. That holds true for this movie as well. This film did not have some of the trademark "shocking" sequences seen in prior films, like Kathy Bates naked in a hot tub. It did not need them. Nebraska is much more focused and deliberate. The dreariness is magnified through the use of black and white. The soundtrack reflects the droll northern mid-west life, where this is not much going on. Little employment, little hope. Woody has lived his life out and realizes there is only two things he still wants after picking up his million - a new truck and an air compressor. With those things, his life is complete.
While I have been trying to write about every new movie (or new to me movie) in the past year. I have realized that I can only really write something when I am moved either from hate and disgust or from enjoyment. Nebraska is a film I enjoyed. The "R" rating was only for language and mild violence.