Sunday, November 24, 2013

Nebraska - Review

Nebraska - Review

Nebraska”, starring Bruce Dern, who won the Best Actor prize at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, is the story of an elderly and grumpy man named Woody Grant of Hawthorn Montana who has received a letter that states he has won a million dollars from a Publishing Clearing House type company located in Lincoln Nebraska.

Shot digitally and beautifully in black and white we see at the beginning of the film Woody, who is too old to drive, along the interstate highway with the plan to walking the entire 800 miles distance to getting his prize money. When police arrive to get him of the road for his own safety, they contact one of his two sons David Grant (Will Forte of SNL) that he was taken to a local hospital for evaluation to make sure he is OK.

When Woody’s son arrives at the hospital to take him home, Woody is very clear and punctuated in his determination to convincing his reluctant David that he is still going to “collect his million dollars” with his help or not. Ultimately and fully aware that the letter is nothing more than a standard introduction into getting people to subscribe to magazines, David with heartfelt and loving intentions agrees to humor his father by driving him over the weekend all the way to arriving in Lincoln by Monday to pick up his presume prize money.

What ensues is one of the best movies of 2013 with certain Oscar nominations for best picture, best actor for Bruce Dern and best supporting actor for June Squibb as Woody’s funny, sardonic and sometimes irrepressible wife Kate.

Nebraska” is a family road trip film. Initially we see only father and son together, but that later evolves with more people in tow as Woody and David continue on their trek. And as they journey along the way they make respite stops to visit family and friends some of which they haven’t seen in years. And as the circle of people grows knowing that Woody’s has come into some new good fortune, they systematically entangled themselves by reminding him not so subtly of his forgotten obligation to sharing some of his new found wealth because (as they put it) they lent him a few dollars 30 years ago and so on and so on.

Nebraska” has a timeless story feel to it that reminded me a bit of the Coen brothers “Fargo” with its unique colloquial quaintness and talkative charm, only in this case there is no kidnapping or murder subplot to speak of. No this film has not one bit of scandal as a backdrop to its plot. Instead it simply tells a story very effectively with a smart screenplay infused with dry humor and with deftly clever direction the mindset of small town Midwest people, all the while nimbly avoiding any vestiges of ever being insulting towards them or their way of life.

Director Alexander Payne (Sideways and The Descendant) showcases his film with both a balanced mixture of real actors and real locals with a prevailing  theme about who people interact with each other who have more than likely lived all of their entire lives in a that or some small town. And while he makes its clear they may not be most worldly or high tech supplicated obsessed sort of people they are at their very core good and honest people who by enlarge share the same common human vein of decency and gut instinct for direct and frank conversations, which is always engaged with (for the most part) respect, some humor (both intentional and unintentional) and a bit of mischief along the way.

The other theme Director Payne reveals, only I believe it is far more subtle, was that while we all have one time or another universally generalize the perception of people in farming and blue collar communities with the prerequisite phrase of “hard working” or “simple needs”, Payne reveals the importance within this road trip story an understanding of what being elderly really means to those who are actually numerically elderly.

“Nebraska” suggests very honestly that while people may have become physically old with hair that is now white and is receding, that their waist lines may be drooping and unshapely and that they may now walk more with steps similar to an infant’s stuttering motion, being elderly doesn’t mean people are spiritually old or near death. They are fully alive and in some ways full of life inside just like children and therefore they will always have some of the same child like sense of joyous wonderment they experienced when they were kids. So while their less than energetic outwardly odd shaped bodies may say otherwise even in the present while reflecting upon their past or their approaching mortality elderly people love being like a little kid every now and then, even if it may make them look a bit goofy for a moment or two..

This movie is funny, charming and ultimately touching with the themes important to us all; those being having the love of family and the respect of friends with a family’s love always coming first, then last and then first again; and when tested above all else first, above all others last and above all else first again.

4 Stars     


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