Film Review: Nebraska

21:20, Jan 19 2014
ROAD TRIP: Bruce Dern and Will Forte in Nebraska.


Directed by Alexander Payne

Director Alexander Payne is quoted as saying 'Sentimentality is a dirty word for me'. And I reckon his films are the proof of his convictions. It is sentimentality that makes us imagine our high-school years were the best years of our lives, or that grief will  

bring out the best in people, or that undying love will one day be rewarded. And for every one of these idiocies there is Payne, throwing cold-water in our hopeful faces, and then gleefully telling us the truth as he sees it. It was Payne who made Election, which ties with Wes Anderson's Rushmore as the best American high-school comedy made in the last twenty years. Payne gave us About Schmidt and The Descendants, both of which dared to suggest that being widowed might not automatically confer a state of grace on the partner left behind. And it was Payne who made Sideways, just to prove that all the hoping in the world ain't worth the price of a bottle of cheap Merlot if you're not prepared to act.

Now Payne has turned his lens on old-age, and he has come back with a film that is at once both sadder and funnier than almost any other Hollywood film on the subject has ever been.

Nebraska sees legendary character actor Bruce Dern (Marnie, Coming Home, Django Unchained) handed a rare lead as Woody; a man in his eighties, convinced that he has won a million dollars in a lottery. He hasn't of course, and we suspect that even Woody knows that, but with the 'winning ticket' in his jacket pocket, Woody is still determined to walk the 800 miles to Billings, Nebraska, to collect his cheque. Woody's wife Kate - the marvellous June Squibb - gives up trying to stop the 'old fool', and eventually consents to Woody and his adult son David making the trip, in the safety of David's car.

What eventuates is a road movie stripped to its bones, and a family comedy of the darkest hue. Payne is a director-for-hire here, not the writer, but the script is reminiscent of some of his best - Schmidt especially. Nebraska is a hell of a film. Elegiac, truly funny, occasionally very moving, and always performed and presented with a rigour and an honesty that is plain refreshing.

It reminded me often of David Lynch's great and resolutely atypical The Straight Story, which is some very high praise. And one more thing: Bruce Dern is getting an Academy Award nomination for his work here. There's nothing surer.


The Dominion Post