Alexander Payne returns in a great way with his new film “Nebraska,” which examines the dynamics of a family like his previous film, “The Descendants” did.
“Nebraska” picks up with the character Woody (Dern), an old man who believes he won $1 million and is trying to leave his home in Montana and get to where he can claim his prize in Nebraska. His wife, Kate (Squibb), is set against the trip, believing the prize to be a hoax. However, his son David (Forte), despite not fully believing that his father has won a prize, thinks that a road trip could do Woody some good.
The two set off on a trip that goes through the American heartland, but before getting to their destination, they end up stopping in Woody’s old town, where he meets with former friends and family he hasn’t seen in years.
The film features elements of a regular road trip comedy, however, looking beneath the surface, it offers much more. The movie examines the relationship between father and son, a family as a whole and an extended family. The humorous parts of the dialogue and the delivery by the cast keep things moving swiftly so the movie doesn’t drag, and with that, the film also carries a heavy amount of heart. The end of the movie is subtle, satisfying and serves as a strong conclusion to the picture, too.
Bruce Dern has already been nominated for awards for his performance in the picture, and for good reason. Playing a character that is rather aloof, Dern still manages to command the screen for much of the movie and finds the right balance between providing both humor and emotion to to the movie. Despite not being the most likable person, he still manages to make the character endearing.
A surprising effort came from “Saturday Night Live” veteran Will Forte, who provides another great performance to the film. Forte plays the role in a reserved manner, and isn’t the most expressive, however, it was for good reason since that was what the character needed. David is a person who is a rather down on his luck type and Forte brings that to the forefront. When that is mixed with his interactions with his Dern’s character, it really turns out to be a strong piece to the overall movie.
The supporting cast works for the most part, too. Despite not having the most screen time, June Squibb was still a riot, providing for most of the picture’s best laughs. Likewise, Bob Odenkirk, who plays Woody’s other son Ross, is also good, despite having limited screen time. What was good about Odenkirk’s performance is how believable it is, it feels as though his and Forte’s characters are actually brothers.
One role that was played a little too over the top, though, was Stacy Keach. I didn’t find Keach to be bad, per se, however it seemed like he was too much of a villain in a film that didn’t necessarily need one. The complaint is a rather minor one, however.
Just by looking at the trailer, one can notice that the movie is in black and white. When asked about the reason for shooting the film that way at the Cannes Film Festival, Director Payne said “It just seemed like the right thing to do for this film. It’s such a beautiful form.” After watching the film, I questioned whether it was necessary for the film itself to have been shot in black and white. I came to a conclusion that the film by all means didn’t need to be shot in black and white, however, Payne really was right. The film was beautiful in black and white and the element did seem to add a certain charm to the picture.
Overall, “Nebraska” is a fantastic dramedy which captures the humorous dynamics of a somewhat dysfunctional family the same way that “The Descendants” did a couple of years ago. Very high 4 out of 5.