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Nebraska: Did the black and white make things any less quirky?

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Written by Markus Robinson, Edited by Nicole I. Ashland

Markus Rating: 2 out of 5 Stars

Rated R for some language

Now playing at CineArts Santana Row in San Jose, California:

I really wanted to fall in love with this quaint looking film. I really did! The plot seemed intriguing, the trailers seemed funny and as I began to watch, the initial fifteen minutes displayed a great amount of promise. But as the plot takes flight, director Alexander Payne allows “Nebraska” to become more and more awkward and meandrous; even dedicating an entire act to his characters meandering around a quirky Podunk town. And while there are some bright spots in this father/son road trip movie that range from touching to smirk-inducing, there isn’t enough here to allow “Nebraska” to come off as anything more than a minor disappointment.

Synopsis: A half-senile old man looking for something to live for, attempts to convince his son and others that he has won a million dollars in a sweepstakes and must travel to Nebraska to claim it. Realizing that this is an obvious scam, but also realizing that a journey to Nebraska may be his father’s last hurrah and may mend their estranged relationship, his son decides to drive him.

Bruce Dern, who plays the father, and may inexplicably garner an Oscar nomination for this role, is fine here. And the same goes for Will Forte, who plays the son. And while I will say that Nebraska’s outline promised a touching tale of a father and son relationship and every sequence where Forte and Dern interact does set the stage for something genuine, every one of the supporting characters seems unrealistic and one dimensional. And in the second act, when Forte and Dern are immersed in a town full of these colorful characters, all of the heart goes right out the window. As I have already alluded to, it is the quirky script that reduces these fine actors to performances which are, at best, eccentrically odd, and at worst, eccentrically obnoxious. For example: Bob Odenkirk (from “Breaking Bad” fame) plays the brother, a character who embodies the smallest amount of quirk, but could be seen as acceptably eccentric. And then there is June Squibb, who plays the incredibly obnoxious mother. A character so forcibly over-the-top vulgar, it is as if Payne is tapping us all on the shoulder, notifying everyone in the theater of how he has now cranked the quirk up to eleven. Some may find quirkiness for quirkiness sake, comical. I find it intolerable.

Side Note: It’s my guess that “Nebraska” was filmed in black and white to set a certain mood or pay homage to a Capraesque quality Payne thinks he carries. But in the end, this effect really adds nothing to the picture.

Final Thought: Through no fault of my own I have a love/ hate relationship with Alexander Payne. On one hand, he still is the director who brought me “Election” and “Sideways”. On the other hand, two years ago we were subjected to the overrated piece of Oscar bait that was “The Descendants”. In regards to “Nebraska”, here is what is all comes down to: The first act was intriguing, the final act was symbolically well constructed, but the journey itself was dull. End of review.

Follow me on Twitter @moviesmarkus


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