Winter 2014 Features series
Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 4:00pm
Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 7:00pm
Directed by Alexander Payne
Screenplay by Bob Nelson
Starring June Squibb, Will Forte, and Bruce Dern
Rated PG ·
The new film from Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) sees the director returning to his home state of Nebraska for this wry, bittersweet comedy-drama about an elderly man and his middle-aged son who embark on a quixotic road trip across the American heartland.
Bruce Dern (Django Unchained) stars as Woody Grant, a grizzled and increasingly addled patriarch who is convinced that he has won a million-dollar magazine sweepstakes. No matter how much his nagging wife Kate (June Squibb; About Schmidt) and exasperated sons Ross (Bob Odenkirk; television’s Breaking Bad) and David (Will Forte; Saturday Night Live) explain that it is a scam, nothing will dissuade Woody from walking, if need be, the 850 miles from his home in Billings, Montana to the supposed sweepstakes headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize. Finally conceding that the old man “just needs something to live for,” the beleaguered David grudgingly agrees to drive him, if only for the quality father-son bonding time it will afford them. After brief stops at Mount Rushmore (“Doesn’t look finished,” demurs Woody) and a detour that involves retrieving Woody’s false teeth, the duo’s journey eventually takes them to Woody’s old hometown for an impromptu family reunion, where his grasping relatives and former acquaintances are soon hitting him up for his newfound riches. Foremost among them is Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach; The Bourne Legacy), a former business associate of Woody’s who feels like he is owed his due.
Payne elicits superb performances from his entire cast, from the leads to the local extras—Forte gives a particularly strong performance with his gentle underplaying of sadsack David, while Squibb shines as the uproariously funny, no-nonsense Kate—but it is Dern’s marvelous turn as the bedraggled and harassed Woody that is the clear standout (he deservedly won the Best Actor award at Cannes). Stunningly shot in austere black and white, Nebraska is a finely etched character study laced with pathos, comedy and regret—coolly controlled, wickedly funny, and subtly heartfelt.
“What makes a movie big or small? By one set of measurements Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, which was written by Bob Nelson, is on the small side—modest budget, black-and-white photography, a road movie played out across flat country at a leisurely pace, and nary a trace of special effects. Measured differently, though, this is a richly textured film about a half-cracked father and a nearly estranged son, a universal tale in which the father, dodging dementia—and his shrewish wife—with sporadic success, clings fiercely, heroically and often hilariously to his own reality. By the metrics of the heart, Nebraska is as big as it is beautiful.” (Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal)
“A wistful ode to small-town Midwestern life and the quixotic dreams of stubborn old men. Throughout, Payne gently infuses the film’s comic tone with strains of longing and regret, always careful to avoid the maudlin or cheaply sentimental.” (Scott Foundas, Variety)
“Bruce Dern gives the performance of his career as the headstrong Woody in the brilliant, wisely observed and wryly funny Nebraska. What stands out is the fullness of the character, with mannerisms and expressions that make him wholly dimensional.” (Claudia Puig, USA Today)