Nebraska – 2013

Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring Will Forte, Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Stacey Keach, Bob Odenkirk
Screenplay Bob Nelson

Bruce Dern has been in a lot of stuff.  He’s been pretty good, too.  My personal favorites are no-good Joe Danby in Support Your Local Sheriff and the brutal Asa Watts from The Cowboys.  His Woody Green would seem the role of a lifetime, one certainly destined to garner him attention enough to net him an Oscar.  It very likely will, too.  Problem is, the best acting in Nebraska is that of the man playing his son, David.  Will Forte has done mostly comedy to now, including an 11 year stint on Saturday night live.  There is plenty of comedy in this film, too, but it is as drier than a tea-cup in the Sahara.  So much is given in David’s quest to connect to his distant father that cannot be explained.  It can only be experienced.

The distance between David Green and his father is one that is familiar to anyone who has moved out and desperately wanted to move on from a lineage he did not understand.  We can see David trying to connect, but more we see well-worn paths of least resistance being traveled.  Woody seems like a real piece of work at first, but eventually we discover that he has a simplicity inherent to his kind.  One of the best scenes in the film shows Woody and his brothers silently watching a Bears / Lions game, hanging on every meaningless word.  And then the screen expands to include David, and we know the price of being in this American family.

June Squibb gives the movie its greatest source of comic entertainment.  Her lines are delivered with a wonderful lack of irony.  The greatness of Alexander Payne is his ability to make real people who seem boring but are really anything but.  Most of us would not give Squibb a second glance if we saw her in the street.  Thank goodness we have the benefit of Payne’s vision.  This is not the first time he and Squibb have worked together and hopefully it won’t be the last.

For Payne, this is a solid double.  For anyone else, this is a grand slam.  If there is any possible slight to the film, it would be for the borrowed theme from Straight Story as well as the recurring family as moochers routine.  The first may be coincidental.  Old man on a journey is not an entirely new concept.  The part about the family mooching really just felt like filler here.  The Descendents was adapted, and Bob Nelson wrote this screenplay, so we really can’t say that Payne is setting a pattern.

Payne is one of the most interesting and understated writers in the business.  It is nice to see that after working with Jack Nicholson or George Clooney, he can go back to working with independent film pros the next time out.  Here is hoping that he has placed Forte on the career path of Paul Giamatti.  It would be a real treat to see what else the guy is capable of.

(**** out of *****)

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