In Director Alexaner Payne’s Nebraska, Bruce Dern gives a touching performance as Woody Grant, a simple man, an old man, a father of two, who is perhaps suffering from dementia, and insists on traveling to Lincoln, Nebraska, from his current residence in Billings, Montana, to collect his $1M sweepstakes prize. While Woody’s son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) discusses with his mother Kate (June Squibb), his son David (Will Forte) decides to entertain Woody and take him on a road trip to Nebraska. Nebraska was also where Woody had previously lived and has many friends as well as many members of his large family. David arranges for Woody to see his hometown, stay at one of his brother’s place for a few days, and have an opportunity to meet his childhood friends.
The journey that father and son undertake offers a glimpse into the American heartland, its vastness, gentle rolling hills, fields, plains, and simple family life centered around food and football games. The bleakness of life amid negative economic impact of the downturn, and scarcity of resources and lack of other stimulation, is also striking and often, depressing. Streets in many towns are dead and empty and businesses shuttered, with most of the life happening at beer bars and pubs. Despite David being fully aware that there is no rainbow at the end, or in this case, there is no million dollar prize waiting for Woody, he takes Woody on this journey. In the course of the journey, David learns a great deal about his father. His now alcoholic, crusty, old father, was once a kind, giving man, who was lauded for his service in the war, who had also stolen the heart of a young maid, before he married David’s mother, a quarrelsome woman.
But while David learns a great deal, Woody remains uninterested, often confused, mostly crusty, and singularly focused on obtaining his million dollar prize. Woody’s family and friends refuse to hear from David that the prize is not real and their need and greed makes them relentlessly pursue Woody, in the hope of getting a piece of the pie. The movie gives a strikingly realistic portrayal of what age does to a person, the fading faculties that never fully bring anything meaningful into focus. The movie also gives a glimpse into life in fading towns in America’s heartland that may never be the focus of meaningful happenings. While insightful and philosophical, the movie is depressing. Perhaps clips and short segments will be shown and discussed in many academic classes.
The movie essentially portrays lack of excitement. However, the end is beautiful, touching, exciting, and offers a redeeming quality to this “blah” movie. I rate it a 3.6 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being excellent.