Thanks to the holiday season and my latest (albeit embarrassing) addiction to New Girl (which, surprisingly enough, somewhat fills the void of fast-pop-culture-talk Gilmore Girls left years ago), I haven’t been watching so many movies. That being said, I did get to see Nebraska, the black and white Alexander Payne road movie that earned six Academy Award nominations this past year, while home for Thanksgiving. Woody (Bruce Dern) is an elderly man determined to get his million dollars from a Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize. He needs to get from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska (a little over a 13 hour drive according to Google Maps) to claim his prize, but unable to drive, Woody begins leaving his house to walk to Lincoln. His wife, Kate (June Squibb), is beginning to grow impatient and wants him in a home. His oldest son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), takes Kate’s side, but estranged son David (Will Forte) decides to drive Woody to the million dollars, even though he knows it’s a sham. At one point, David says the reason he’s supporting his father’s mission is so Woody has something to live for, though as a viewer one knows this applies to both men.
The film follows the typical road-movie plot (characters travelling from place to place, learning about each other and gaining more along the way than at the destination) but actually takes place the most in Hawthorne, Nebraska, where a majority of Woody’s family remains, dead or alive. We’re introduced to a rich cast of characters, and the portrait of the family is well done, as to be expected in a Payne film (read: The Descendants). It is refreshing to see characters on a screen portrayed in such a natural light– how often do you see actors over 60, let alone as lead roles (not out-rightly about death)? Each character is complex, particularly Woody, and though the film moves at a pace as slow as Hawthorne itself, Nebraska shows and gives so much.
It’s funny, but mostly in the beginning, though my main critiques would be to shave it down about 15 minutes shorter and to lay off on the comments regarding Woody’s drinking– it’s as if Payne told each actor to improvise some lines about alcoholism and then chose to keep every single one. It comes across too strong. The good news is that the cinematography and score are spot-on, and it’s a simple, but exciting, story. It’s a good movie to start the winter season with, served best with a cup of tea and a fireplace nearby.