Nebraska, 2013, USA
Bittersweet and touching, Nebraska is a lovely look at small town America and the power of family. Woody (Bruce Dern) has Alzheimer’s, and is convinced that he’s won a million dollars from a sweepstakes draw. In reality, it’s just an ad for magazine subscriptions but Woody won’t listen to reason. His long-suffering wife, Kate (June Squibb) is adamant that he forget about the money, but when Woody continues to leave the house to try to walk to Nebraska, his son, David (Will Forte) agrees to drive him. Along the way, they stop in the town of Hawthorne, Woody’s hometown, and visit his family, all of whom are thrilled to hear about his apparent winnings. But money (even non-existent money!) complicates things for the folks of Hawthorne, and Woody’s family.
Man, did I love this film. Every single performance was just so strong – especially Dern and Squibb. Dern is beautiful as Woody, an old, forgetful alcoholic who is all too easy to take advantage of. He doesn’t speak much, but when he does, you listen to him. Squibb was uproariously funny as Kate; she has the film’s best lines. Underneath her tough, blunt exterior, you see a woman who deeply loves her husband and her sons. And I was pleasantly surprised by Forte, who was incredible! Admittedly, I had no idea he had this type of performance in him. I respect him as a comedian, and now he’s really won my respect as an actor.
Nebraska is in black and white, and I think that really adds to the character of the film. There’s a hint of nostalgia, a sense that life remains the same in these small towns, no matter how much time goes by. Black and white is also perfect for capturing the flat, deserted landscapes. Director Alexander Payne perfectly captured the American Midwest, both in tone and visually. It’s a film that’s tinged in melancholy – you can’t help but compare the bushy-haired, washed-up Woody to his hometown that’s similarly falling apart. Age and time is doing Woody in; time and the recession is doing Hawthorne in.
Sadly, Nebraska is currently only playing on a single screen at the local second run theatre late in the evening. I wish more people saw this film, because it is fantastic. Payne is so good at making films that are droll, yet wistful, and I think Nebraska may be my favourite of his yet.