Review - Nebraska

Nebraska (2013), R, 115 minutes - I wasn't really sure what to expect going into this film.  I had first read about it in a small blurb in Entertainment Weekly a couple of months back.  I hadn't seen a full trailer and only knew what little I had seen in that magazine piece: it was a film about an old man from Billings, Montana who decides to travel - one way or another - to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim a million dollar sweepstakes prize, and that it included great performances from Bruce Dern and Will Forte.  I'm glad that I had seen that little write up because what I encountered when I saw Nebraska at my local art house theater the other day was a very heart felt, endearing, humorous film that was one of the most enjoyable movies I've seen this year.

Woody Grant (Dern) gets a letter in the mail stating that he was 'a $1,000,000 winner!'.  We've all seen this kind of junk mail (or at least any of us over the age of 30 have, who knows if they still circulate).  We're a winner if our number matches or we select the correct assortment of magazine subscriptions.  Anyway, due to his age, an oversight, or just a desperate want for a change in his life, Woody overlooks the fine print that gives away the fact that he probably hadn't actually won.  He becomes determined to get to Lincoln to claim his prize (he doesn't trust the mail to handle that amount of money).  After several attempts to go by himself (his wife Kate - played by June Squibb - thinks he's crazy and doesn't understand what he'd even do with a million dollars at his age), his son David (Forte) agrees to take a couple of days off from work to provide a means of transportation for this uncommon road trip.  Due to a number of unusual circumstances Woody and David end up taking an extended pit stop in the small Nebraska town that they lived in long ago (and that is still home to the rest of the family).  Woody has to deal with the attention of a celebrity as word gets out that he's won the sweepstakes and David gets a history lesson about his family and the area they are from.

Nebraska is a film about the love and frustration of family and includes much more comedy than I would have expected.  Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) directs, which explains the deftness with which the dry/sarcastic humor and serious situations are handled.  Dern and Forte both give great performances.  Dern's may even grab an Oscar nomination.  They are the two primary characters so it is easy to focus on them, but one can't forget June Squibb's wonderful performance either.  While Dern's Woody is a man of few words, Squibb's Kate has no problem telling you what's on her mind and it often leads to humorous situations.  We even get a dose of Stacy Keach as Ed Pegram, an old business partner of Woody's who pushes pretty hard to get a piece of the winnings, claiming that he lent Woody money back in the day and was never re-payed.

Nebraska is only screening at one theater in my area (that's the Grandin for those of you around the 'noke) so I don't know how widespread it has been released, but if you have the opportunity to check it out, I would highly recommend this film.  It's a well made, fun, endearing flick.  Who knew that a story of gold like this could be mined from something as simple as trying to to claim one of those junk mail sweepstakes prizes.












*****SPOILERS*****

- I really enjoyed the fact that there wasn't anything 'wrong' with Woody.  He wasn't crazy and he wasn't suffering from something like Alzheimer's.  He was just getting on in his years and there were things that he wanted to do in life that the $1,000,000 would have allowed him to do (even if they were very simple like buying a new truck and replacing the air compressor he had loaned out years ago).  I particularly liked the conversation between David and the lady in the sweepstakes office.  When he is asked if Woody suffers from Alzheimer's he replies by saying 'no, he's just an old man that believes what people tell him'.

- I absolutely loved how this film ended.  I thought on a number of occasions that Woody may pass after learning that he really hadn't won anything.  The way it plays out with David getting his father the new truck and air compressor, then allowing him to drive through his old stomping grounds to get the last laugh was priceless.

- I'm generally amused by Will Forte's comedic work, but I gained a lot of respect for his abilities as an actor in general with this role.  

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