When was the last time you wanted to give a gigantic hug to a movie’s leading man? If you’re like me, probably never. However, “Nebraska” and Bruce Dern will change your thinking completely. Directed by Alexander Payne and written by Bob Nelson, “Nebraska” is made with so much love and affection, it’s hard not to reciprocate the good feelings.
“Nebraska” is about 80-something Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) who is convinced that he has won one million dollars in a Publisher’s Clearinghouse-type sweepstakes. Armed with his “winning” letter, he is determined to go from his home in Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim his prize. What will he do with his winnings? Buy a truck and an air compressor…or is there more to it? Following Woody’s several failed attempts in going it alone on foot, his youngest son, David (Will Forte), decides to humor his father and drive him to Lincoln. In one of the oddest road-trips in movie history, the two break up their travel with a stop in Hawthorne, Nebraska—Woody’s hometown—for a visit with relatives and old friends.
Bruce Dern is simply perfect as Woody. Woody is cantankerous, decrepit, slightly senile and, for the most part, a man of few words. But his eyes and body language convey so much you’ll think he’s saying more than he actually is. We’ve known Bruce Dern for years, but we’ve never known or seen him like this.
Will Forte is a revelation as David. His character is at a cross-road personally and professionally. Taking his father to Lincoln might be as much for himself as it is for Woody. Forte’s scenes with Dern are so believable, they will make you laugh and break your heart at the same time. There’s not a trace of SNL in Forte’s performance. With “Nebraska” he shows that in the right role, he’s an actor with whom to be reckoned.
The rest of the cast is fantastic. June Squibb as Woody’s exasperated and exasperating wife, Kate, is terrific. Just when you think Woody might have married the wrong woman all those years ago, she gives such a rousing defense of her husband culminating in, “you can all go f**k yourselves,” that you’ll want to cheer (my audience actually applauded). Stacey Keach as Woody’s shady former business partner, Ed Pegram, and Bob Odenkirk as Woody’s oldest son, Ross, are very good in smaller, but important roles. The rest of the supporting cast comprising relatives and friends are equally good.
Filmed in black and white, “Nebraska” has a bare-bones, true-to-life feel to it. Mark Orton’s simple, but memorable score complements the film perfectly.
“Nebraska’s” story is as big as its heart. Family, family secrets, growing old, small-town America—all play a part and more. Movies as complete and full of the human spirit as “Nebraska” don’t come along that often. Funny and sad, but never dull or cloying, this is one film that should not be missed.