By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2013--NEBRASKA  Send This Review to a Friend

Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska,” with a screenplay by Bob Nelson, is a family story as well as a look into the daily lives of small town inhabitants, with their aspirations, limitations and histories. Merely describing its ingredients will inevitably short-change the sensitive, observant film because its strength lies in the texture achieved by its performances and ambience, mostly achieved in low-key fashion, save for a few outbursts. Showcased at the 2013 New York Film Festival, “Nebraska” emerges as one of the finer films of the year..

Bruce Dern gives a memorable performance as Woody Grant, a crotchety, stubborn old man with a touch of senility who gets one of those come-on mail announcements that he can win a million dollars. He’s convinced he has actually won the million and he sets off walking from Billings, Montana, toward Lincoln, Nebraska, to collect. His wife (June Squibb), who thinks Woody is bonkers, and their two sons try to hold him back. Finally David (Will Forte), feeling sorry for his dad, takes time off from his job as a salesman and decides to drive him to Lincoln.

En route they pay a visit to Woody’s old home town, the fictional Hawthorne, and the word soon gets about that Woody has become a millionaire. Old pals and relatives come out of the woodwork to want repayment for alleged loans or to get handouts, which demonstrates how easily greed can be aroused. David is trying to convince the town that the winning is a hoax, but people think that is a mask for not wanting to part with any money. Stacey Keach plays Ed, who is especially aggressive. Woody remains stubborn through it all, still convinced he has won.

The film is rich in incidents, as when David discovers in trying to squelch an item in the local paper hailed Woody as a millionaire that the woman still editing the paper was once in love with Woody. He also learns other interesting things about his dad’s past, all of this a step toward getting to know his father better. There is humor in meeting various boring relatives, and in Woody’s persistent quest. Asked what he wants the money for, Woody says he wants to buy a truck. David points out that he doesn’t drive anymore.

Woody’s other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) has gained a slot as a local TV anchorman, and there is an amusing moment when he gets into a fight and pleads to his opponent not to hit him in the face because he’s on television.

The scene stealer of the movie is June Squibb as Kate, Woody’s wife, who is fed up with her marriage, consistently berates and belittles her husband and spews profanity. She is resourceful when necessary, and Squibb makes Kate a very colorful character. A highlight is when Kate, visiting a cemetery, spots the grave of one of her old suitors. She hikes up her skirt to show him what he could have had. Squibb gives one of the year’s outstanding supporting performances. (I recall interviewing her back in her more youthful days when she was performing on Broadway in “Gypsy.”)

Eventually David and Woody get to Lincoln to face reality. By this time, father and son have come much closer and David works out a way to give the film a happy ending. For the audience getting there provides immense enjoyment. A Paramount Vantage release. Reviewed November 15, 2013.


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