Nebraska Review: Alexander Payne’s Senior Moment

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Nebraska is a perfectly road trip film about a son trying to connect with his father. But unlike director Alexander Payne’s previous work, the pacing seems deliberately tedious, an experiment that gives mixed results.

But there are a lot of things that are really great about this film.

The script and the performances are nothing short of stellar. We understand David’s (Will Forte) annoyance with his father Woody (Bruce Dern). Watching a loved one succumb to the pains of old age is never easy.

Nebraska opens with Woody being stopped on the side of the road on his walk from Montana to Nebraska (he never made it out of town). His quest is for a supposed million dollars he won from a sweepstakes that also asks him which magazines he would like to subscribe to.

So it’s a scam. His whole family knows it, but he believes himself to be a millionaire. Dern portrays Woody as an timid old man ruined by a controlling, but not wholly unrewarding, marriage. He hardly notices when people talk to him and walks with a pathetic slight limp.

In the beginning, as Payne introduces us to how Woody interacts with his family, the pacing allows for the realism in David’s relationship to his father. The scenes are slow and frustrating, just as trying to communicate to an elderly loved one can be. Especially when their other half is much more capable and aware.

Which brings me to Woody’s wife Kate (June Squibb), the most interesting person in this sad, quirky story of legacy and achievement. Expect to see Squibb in awards season for her portrayal of the brutally honest, harsh, but ultimately defensive mother figure. She adds another dash of realism to a family that could just as easily be your own.

But the pacing that makes Nebraska as clever and occasionally wonderful as it is is also its downfall. Imagine a two hour battle with someone who’s “not all there” about a fake sweepstakes. It gets exhausting and tedious, by the end it becomes difficult. You know they are just going to do what they want anyway.

This is where Nebraska hits more predictable, cheesy territory as it crawls to the finish line. The ending and where the characters end up is still quite rewarding and beautiful, but I can’t help but think some of the majesty was robbed in a few too many scenes of Woody being unable to hear his son.

But the robbery hardly ruins the whole experience. If you have ever been around a struggling elderly person, you will relate to this film. If you’ve found yourself caring for one for a long period of time, the realism may scare you. At least the film is a comedy. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

 

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