Nebraska: understated, unpresumptuous and often very funny

NEBRASKA-MOVIE-01-1024x734DIRECTOR Alexander Payne, known for About Schmidt and The Descendants, has managed to craft a well-meaning film in Nebraska. The film stars Bruce Dern as Woody Grant and Will Forte as his long suffering son David. Elderly Woody, who has had problems with alcohol, receives an advert in the post telling him that he has won $1,000,000. Despite the protestations of his family, he sets off to Lincoln, Nebraska, on foot, to collect his winnings. Exasperated with his father’s behaviour David agrees to drive Woody the 850 miles from their home to Nebraska.

What follows is a nice, if a little unexciting, look at what it means to grow old and to look back at a life you once lived. Like a catwalk model or a Premier League footballer, Nebraska satisfies on the surface but perhaps lacks a little depth.

Despite this, there is definitely a lot to enjoy in it. It’s funny. The scenes that bring together all the men in the family very effectively make use of male relationships to comic effects. There is a brilliant running joke throughout the movie regarding driving times that really hits the spot. June Squibb is also excellent as Woody’s even longer suffering wife. She lights her scenes up with excellent anecdotes about men who were trying to “get in her pants”.

Bruce Dern is great as Woody and deserves the praise and critical acclaim that he has received. His understated performance captures the feeling of growing old and losing a direction in your life perfectly. An Oscar nomination seems no less than he deserves. Will Forte and Bob Edenkirk also provide great support as Woody’s two sons.

Following the set-up, the film turns into a closer look at the politics of a small town. When the populace learn of Woody’s new found wealth, everyone decides that they want a piece. This section of the film feels a little undeveloped as past Woody’s odious ex-business partner few of the townies feel three dimensional. It is the family that matters, however, and Nebraska serves as an insightful look at the dynamics of a large and often fractured family.

Clocking in at just under two hours the film is fairly long but, unlike a lot of movies being released today, manages to fill its running time in a thoroughly engaging way. It doesn’t force its story down your throat, rather it allows the characters to form in their own pace.

In a climate of overlong and simplistic blockbuster movies, Nebraska provides a welcome relief. It is understated, unpresumptuous and often very funny. Certain parts of the story feel undeveloped but as whole it is a satisfying look at aging that anyone can find something to enjoy in.