Sunday, February 9, 2014

Movie – Nebraska (2013)

In the tradition of Oklahoma! (1955), Kansas (1988), Texas (1994), and South Dakota (2013), comes Nebraska (2013), a movie that takes place in the Midwestern United States.  (Sorry North Dakota – there’s no movie named after you, although there is 1996’s Fargo.)  Director Alexander Payne loves setting movies in his home state of Nebraska (i.e. Election, About Schmidt), but surprisingly he didn’t write the screenplay for this film.  It’s the first film where he hasn’t directed his own story.  You wouldn’t know it from the film, though.  There are a number of Payne touches in it.  In fact, it’s sort of a re-imagining of About Schmidt, although done better.  Nebraska has more humor in it than I was expecting.  No, it’s not as funny as Election, but it certainly does have its moments.

The film opens with Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) walking out of his home town of Billings, Montana and being stopped by a policeman.  His long-suffering son David (Will Forte) goes to the police station to retrieve his elderly father.  David asks him what the heck he was doing.  Woody explains that he was walking to Lincoln, Nebraska.  That’s 850 miles for those not familiar with the geography.  When David asks why, Woody says it’s because he wants to claim his million dollars.  Woody shows him one of those come-ons that arrive in the mail all the time saying you’ve won lots of money and to get in touch to claim it (and incidentally, buy a bunch of magazines, too.)  Woody says he doesn’t trust the mail, he isn’t allowed to drive anymore, and his wife Kate (June Squibb) refuses to drive him.  David tries to explain to his dad that he didn’t really win, but Woody is having none of it.  The next day Woody starts walking again.  And again.  (Resemblances to 1999’s The Straight Story are probably intentional.  The star of that film, Richard Farnsworth, also received a Best Actor Oscar nomination.) 

David finally gives up and agrees to drive to Lincoln with his dad.  They stop along the way in a little town in Nebraska where Woody was born and raised.  A brother of his is still there and they decide to make a weekend family reunion of it.  Kate and their other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) come down to join them.  Woody couldn’t care less about seeing his family or visiting his old town; he just wants his million bucks.  Naturally Woody starts talking and soon family and friends are coming out of the woodwork, all thinking he’s struck it rich.  This includes an old business partner of Woody’s, Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach).

Woody isn’t a very likable person.  He’s a drunk, didn’t have much use for either a wife or sons, and never really amounted to anything.  He’s as stubborn as you can get.  And when you put him together with his brothers you find out that the family name might as well have been “Taciturn”.  Dern received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.  It’s his first such honor in 35 years (1979’s Coming Home.)

Woody’s wife Kate is the polar opposite.  She’s outgoing and doesn’t have a single good thing to say about anybody, especially Woody.  Mention a name and she’s got a piece of gossip about how a woman was “whoring around” or how a guy wanted to get into her pants.  She gets a lot of the best lines in the film.  Much of the humor comes from her, too.  It’s probably why she received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Forte does “long suffering” with the best of them in this film.  Frankly, I wouldn’t have put up with what his character does in this film.  After a few such attempts to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska I would have said, “You know what, Dad? Go for it.”

In one of the most ridiculous decisions to come from the MPAA in, well, probably not very long knowing the MPAA, they gave Nebraska an R rating for containing “some language”.  The film has a total of two, count ‘em two, F-bombs in it.  That’s it.  There’s no sex, no nudity, and no violence other than a punch being thrown.  It’s a quiet little family drama that happens to have two F-bombs, neither of them even related to sex.  The film probably would get the equivalent of a PG rating in other countries.  Even here in the U.S. it should have been no more than a PG-13.

Nebraska received a total of six Oscar nominations.  In addition to the two for acting, it also received ones for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography.  The latter is probably because it was shot in black and white, which just serves to emphasize the bleakness of the rundown little town where most of the film takes place.  I don’t know that Nebraska is going to win any of the six, though.  I believe there are favorites ahead of them in every category.

This is a slow moving film, so if that’s not your cup of tea then you may want to avoid it.  For everyone else, if it sounds interesting then I recommend you give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars


  1. You mean it's not related to the Bruce Springsteen album of the same name? I'd like to see Dern win the Oscar, though it seems unlikely that will happen.

    1. You're probably right about Dern. He's made a number of good films, but I think it's probably not enough for the "career Oscar" that is sometimes won. And that happens more in the Best Supporting categories, and not so much in the main ones.

  2. I have to admit, Nebraska was my favorite movie of the year. There were so many little touches in this film that I liked-When the father and son go to visit their relatives, they sit around and no one has anything to say! I can't recall the last time I saw that in a movie. Yet, this scene in the absence of anything to say, fascinated me. And when the cousins talk, the only thing they seem to care about is how long it took them to drive to their house. I also loved when his son asks his dad why he had children and Bruce Dern has the most incredulous look on his face and says "Because I like to screw!" I wasn't particularly expecting it to have an upbeat ending, but that felt right to me, too. I'm glad Nebraska got the recognition it did.

    1. When all the brothers were sitting around not saying a damn thing I got a laugh out of it. None of them saw much point in talking when they had nothing to say to each other. The family's last name should have been "Taciturn".

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