Alexander Payne has crafted Nebraska in a remarkably specific style and tone that is very reminiscent of the subject matter itself. It’s flat. Nebraska is filmed in black and white which serves to mute everything and give it that sameness that is so closely associated with middle America. There are no false steps in the film, nor are there any detracting performances. I say all of this at the forefront to explain that there is nothing wrong with this film, and yet, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because this film comes so close to everyday life around where I’m from that it ended up depressing me. That’s not the film’s fault and I wanted to make sure that level of transparency was intact before I begin.
Nebraska stars Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, an elderly man that thinks he’s won a million dollars in a marketing sweepstakes. Woody enlists the help of his son David (Will Forte) to travel from Montana to Nebraska to claim the prize stopping along the way to visit Woody’s hometown. The booze-addled Woody has little love for pretty much everybody and as the news of Woody’s winnings spread the vultures begin their hunt.
Bruce Dern is superb as Woody. He effortlessly portrays a man that has lost his tenuous grasp on anything resembling usefulness and somehow manages to make his eyes vacant and determined. Will Forte is primarily known for being a comedian and a fairly risqué one at that, but he has a common man vulnerability as David that he hasn’t shown much before. However, both leads are shown up by the wonderful June Squibb as Woody’s long suffering wife. She is charming in every scene she’s in and it’s a shame that she wasn’t in them all. Squibb is a treasure.
Nebraska is a pitch perfect portrayal of small town life in the middle of nowhere. Everything is extremely well done from the top to bottom. I’m assuming even the craft services people were exceedingly competent. Even with all this it wasn’t a movie I enjoyed. I certainly connected with it, which may have been the problem. These are people that just exist with their greatest happiness coming from a new truck and a country song on the jukebox while they drink away the banality of it all. Sounds awful to me. Grade: B-