My Thoughts on Nebraska

NebraskaLast night Alexander Payne appeared at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to present a screening of his new film Nebraska, which is scheduled to open in limited release this Friday.  The film focuses on Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an overtly trusting curmudgeonly old man, who receives a letter in the mail, saying that he has “won” a million dollars in the sweepstakes.  Woody is dead set on travelling to Lincoln, Nebraska to pick up the winnings and his son David (Will Forte) reluctantly agrees to drive him.  Along the way, the two of them stop over in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, where they are joined the Woody’s wife Kate (June Squibb) and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) for an impromptu family gathering.  Woody lets it slip that he won the sweepstakes, which quickly makes him the talk of the town.  It also attracts some unsavoury folks, such as Woody’s old business partner Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), who want a piece of the winnings.  Through it all, David begins to know his father better and come to respect this man, who is easily taken advantage of. In many ways, Nebraska is a spiritual follow-up to Alexander Payne’s 2002 film About Schmidt, though I would argue that the film is so much more than that.  For a film that is a relatively simple father/son drama, the film is beautifully shot.  Payne opted to make the film in black and white and there are many moments that take full advantage of the stark contrast, specifically scenes that only have Bruce Dern’s hair lit.  The film also uses many lengthy wide shots, which almost seems like something taken out of a spaghetti western.  This feel is accentuated by the film’s absolutely wonderful score. Nebraska is a role of a lifetime for Bruce Dern, who probably hasn’t had this significant a film role in years.  While Woody starts off seeming like merely a stubborn old man, you later come to realize that there is much more under the surface.  The film also gives Saturday Night Live alumnus Will Forte a chance to show off his dramatic acting skills and I thought that he did a fine job.  However, the true standout in the film, other than Dern of course, is June Squibb as Woody’s wife Kate.  Squibb previously had a brief role in About Schmidt as Jack Nicholson’s wife and she has a much larger role this time around, in which she nearly steals the film from under Dern and Forte.  Kate is a character who always speaks her mind and some of the things that comes out of her mouth is just crazy, particularly during a scene when she visits a cemetery. Overall, I have to say the Nebraska was an absolutely wonderful film.  While the plot is relatively simple, it really allows the performances to shine through and I can say that the film is probably Alexander Payne at his peak.10 | LOVED IT