BY: ANDREW LINDE
"Nebraska", directed by Alexander Payne, is a somber narrative and full of surprisingly real moments from Bruce Dern, playing Woody Grant. Grant is an elderly man who receives a letter which makes him believe he has won a million dollars. His son David, Will Forte, agrees to drive him to the collection office, knowing full well his father has no money coming.
Having the film center on a fractured family is nothing new for Alexander Payne. His 2012 film, "The Descendants" dealt with a man who discovers his wife was cheating on him after an accident places her in a coma. Nebraska deals more with a family reuniting and having to face their past. Woody and David stop by the father’s hometown of Hawthorne on their way to Lincoln, Nebraska. David learns more and more about his father as he must deflect townsfolk and family from trying to claim a piece of the million dollars.
Will Forte’s performance as David is very muted. It is unlike his comedy work on Saturday Night Live or the film "MacGruber." He is the neglected son, intuitive but innocent. The viewer has the feeling that David has never really worked hard for anything in his life, and never wanted to. Bob Odenkirk plays David’s brother, Ross. Odenkirk shines in a much smaller role of the smarter and more conniving brother. Ross never felt the need to connect with his father in the way that David tries to.
Although he doesn’t have many lines, Bruce Dern carries this film with his slow gait and dedication to character. Dern brings gravitas to a role that could have been played too silly by another actor. The viewer is led to believe that Woody’s belief in the cash reward is not motivated by stupidity, but hope for his family. He is a man who never provided an amazing life for his kids, and now that they are grown he can not connect with them anyway. June Squibb plays Woody’s wife, Kate. Some might accuse Squibb of playing a stereotype as the screeching mother, her performance perfectly explains Woody’s stubbornness.
For anyone who has family from the Midwestern United States, this film will strike a nerve. The family in Hawthorne is shown as both loving and money-grubbing. But through it all, it feels real. While it isn’t a comedy, there are comedic moments to lighten up the mood. Later in the film, there is one tear-jerking moment that shows Woody’s dedication to his goal in the face of adversity.
"Nebraska" has tough competition to win Best Picture at the 86th Academy Awards Ceremony. "12 Years a Slave," "The Wolf of Wall Street," and "Gravity" seem to be favorites for winning the coveted award. Alexander Payne has previously seen The Descendants nominated for Best Picture only to lose to The Artist. A film like "Nebraska" has not won since 1989. That was the year "Rain Man" won, and comparatively, they’re both about two family members connecting in a new way.