Go small or go home – Independent films in Hollywood have always been around over the years, but it wasn’t until “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Little Miss Sunshine” that people started to take notice. That’s too bad, for these films can offer up some of the best writing and acting that other “bigger” films throughout the year just don’t have. And nowadays, ‘indies’ are almost as common as comedies are if you know where to look. “Nebraska” is one of those films that should be seen, but not for all the reasons you might think.
What’s it about? To be perfectly honest, I think this is just a story about a father and son spending time together; no more, no less. But, it all starts with Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) walking down the streets of Billings, Montana after buying a lottery ticket. His son, David (Will Forte), sees him and picks up him. Woody tells David he needs to go to Lincoln to collect his money after winning the lottery. Knowing his Dad is a bit of an alcoholic, David doesn’t think twice and looks at the letter. Turns out, it’s just a sweepstakes letter to get you to purchase magazine subscriptions. But, he keeps it to himself and takes his Dad home where his mother Kate (June Squibb) instantly starts giving her husband a hard time. Having seen this game before, he leaves and goes back to his life. A few days later, his mom calls saying his Dad was out roaming the town again, insisting on getting to Lincoln to collect his winnings. Finally giving in, David agrees and the two set off on a road trip of a lifetime that would wind up opening David’s eyes in a way they he could have never imagined leading to a conclusion that may make you feel all ‘warm and fuzzy.’
Who was in it? As in most independent films, the cast is not all that well known and is relatively small. But, don’t let that fool you, for this cast was more than capable of handling this script which is lot better than it looks. I just don’t think it was as good as people are making out to be. Sure, I like Bruce Dern, but he really isn’t doing a whole lot in this film. Maybe that was the point and I’m totally missing it, but without the likes of supporters like Stacy Keach, June Squibb and Will Forte, Dern would have looked more like the guy he was playing. Which was a sloppy drunk old man walking around the town bothering people. But, out of those three, I think the one that truly held this film together was Saturday Night Live alum Will Forte. This guy was great in so many ways, making me want to go back watch old SNL skits from 2002-2010. And it wasn’t just in how he interacted with Dern, it was the way he did and how believable it was. I felt like I was watching an actual father and son, which tells you a lot about the job those two did. Especially Forte, who truly should have been nominated for an Oscar, simply due to how different of a role it was and how real it felt. That’s important to a film like this, which has to rely so heavily on the story. One that clearly had June Squibb at her best, as she shined each and every time she was on screen. I mean, she was hilarious without looking like she was trying to be, making it all the more funny.
Joy and Payne – There’s no doubt when I looked at this film on paper, I questioned how it could ever be nominated for Best Picture. Nothing about it screams Oscar winner, unless one of the cast members walks away with an award. That I can see, but for the life of me, I can’t come up with anything else. And listen, that doesn’t mean this wasn’t entertaining, because it was; it just means it’s not a film that should be nominated for much. Sure, the writing by Bob Nelson was great as it helped carry this slow and methodical film for the better part of 110 minutes, but that’s about it minus a couple performances worth lifting up. Plus it was in black and white, which I never understood until after seeing it. Filming anything in black and white makes no sense to me, given what studios can do nowadays with color. But, clearly director Alexander Payne wanted to emphasize the empty and dreary look to Montana or Nebraska to go against Paramount Vantage like he did. He was even quoted as saying he wanted an “iconic, archetypal look.” Well, I think he got it as it that decision could be the very reason why I’m even talking about and reviewing it now. So, maybe I’m crazy, but I can’t help but think this film would have not been nominated had it been filmed in color. So, kudos to Payne and the producers for that one, as they could have easily been watching all these award ceremonies at home this season.
Bottom Line – “Nebraska” is not for everyone, but it is one of those films that is painfully true to life. And that’s OK given all the other things playing in theaters that are “not” true to life. So, while I might not have been “Into it” as much as some of the Academy voters, I do appreciate the story and what it leaves you with after the credits start rolling.
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