Here’s a script worth getting excited about. Following up the slightly insipid but critically well-received Clooney-vehicle The Descendants, Alexander Payne directs another family drama, but this one deserves to feel earnest. In a way, it’s a road movie which knows exactly where it’s going, without a moment wasted, full of humour and compassion.
Bruce Dern is a revelation as Woody Grant, an old man possibly suffering from Alzheimer’s – just about well enough to stillbe aware of what’s going on but perfectly on the brink, bumbling along. When he receives a piece of junk mail claiming he’s won a million dollars, he takes the news literally, deciding to persistently attempt to walk from Montana to Nebraska to claim his prize. Naturally, his son David (Will Forte) is worried, but decides to drive him to Nebraska to put his Dad’s mind at rest and bring him back down to earth, whilst at the same time providing him with an opportunity to spend some time with his father who may not have alot of time left. All of the performances feel so fresh and heartfelt, from the son (Will Forte) played with exactly the right amount of low key weariness and compassion to the mother (June Squibb), unashamedly filthy mouthed but Squibb impossibly manages to avoid appearing anything like the token ‘comedy vulgar Gran’ and instead is an utter delight.
Payne shoots the film in glorious, grainy grayscale which makes everything look absolutely wonderful, with some stunning long shots held for the perfect amount of time, adding vibrancy to the empty palette. The film was shot digitally and then converted to black and white (with added graininess) and if any film feels right to be in monochrome it’s this one, perfectly matching the theme of Woody rediscovering his past in old age. The script is splendidly observed as Woody stops off in his old hometown, creating some delightfully awkward family reunions with extended family who seem to take great, expressionless pride in their small talk based on cars and motorways. This sort of comic timing is rare. It’s unusual to find a film which I find hilarious and this one has at least three or four real moments of comedic inspiration and yet it never loses sight of essentially being a very down-to-earth, sombre family drama. Everything feels in sync, emotionally and visually. These are the sorts of performances we wait for. It’s hard to see how Nebraska could be better.
Review by David Rank
Nebraska is out now in the UK and US . Running time 115 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).