Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Beautiful and Bleak: A Review of Nebraska

It's been a long time since we've heard from Bruce Dern. Although he was on HBO's Big Love recently, he's still remembered from his movies from the 1970's. This year, he made an impressive comeback by winning Best Actor at Cannes for a movie about an old man who thinks he's won a million dollars. The movie, Nebraska, has become a winner for Dern, but also for two other actors, Will Forte of SNL and June Squibb.

Although it won't be officially released until Friday, it was shown last week through the New York Film Critics Screening Special at a handful of theaters, including the Crest in Sacramento, and included interviews with Dern and director Alexander Payne.

The movie is short in black and white to show the bleakness and beauty of the setting of the three cities where the action takes place: Billings, Montana, where Woody is trying to walk to Nebraska to claim his prize, Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody's home town, and Lincoln, where he thinks his prize will be. Woody Grant is 77, an alcoholic who looks like he doesn't undertsnad what is happening.. He thinks he has a sweepstakes ticket worth a million dollars. He doesn't, but his son David (Forte) decides to take him to Lincoln to "claim" his prize. After having one too many at a stop in South Dakota, Woody cuts his head open. For the rest of the movie, he has a bandage on his head which shows him as damaged but not done yet. Another scene where he visits the farm where he grew up is also poignant. Here, he can remember what it was like. There's also a funny scene where he gives an interesting comment about Mount Rushmore.

Despite being best known for his comedy on Saturday Night Live, Forte is just great as Woody's son. Although he says he's on this road trip to humor his dad, he's also getting over a break-up with his live-in girlfriend. Maybe he'll get closer to his dad. He does, in unusual ways, like where David asks Woody why he got married.

When they get to Hawthorne, the town is also fooled into thinking Woody's a millionaire. Since it's one of the small towns that is slowly fading away, populated by mostly old people, it'll take any bit of good news. That includes Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), who expects Woody to give him a share of the prize that doesn't exist.

June Squibb is also great as Woody's wife Kate. When she arrives in Hawthorne, he gets a chance to reconnect with old friends. You also see why she loves Woody, dents and all. Seeing her visit a local cemetery is a hoot. (UPDATE: Enetertainment Weekly has that cemetery visit in a special video.)

This is a bleak and beautiful film about a part of the country that is slowly fading away, along with the people who live there. Woody is hoping that the "prize" will help him up for his failings, and that he can be a winner in the eyes of his family. It may remind some of The Descendants, which also includes a family trying to heal itself. Payne, of course, directed that movie, too.
Nebraska is a nice little gem to find among the upcoming wave of holiday movies over the next few weeks.

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