“Nebraska” – 115 minutes Director: Alexander Payne, Screenplay: Bob Nelson, Cast: Bruce Dern (Woody Grant), Will Forte (David Grant), June Squibb (Kate Grant), Bob Odenkirk (Ross Grant), Stacy Keach (Ed Pegram) Comedy/Drama
For this Midwesterner, it might have been shot in Streeterville, Illinois, where my long-deceased relatives lived. Anyone who lives in the Midwest will recognize it’s raw characters as authentic, the scenery uneventful and the brilliance of the Director to film it in black and white.
We meet Woody Grant, a hairy, miserable, old guy who sequesters himself away from the realities of the world and his family. It is his method of survival and his gift, unknowingly, to his family. Woody puts to shame “Grumpy Old Men”. His unkempt hair, ample (untrimmed) nasal hair, his lack of pride in his personal appearance screams “I don’t give a damn and neither should you!”. While he never actually says that in this movie everything else his says or doesn’t say, everything else he does or doesn’t do, everything else about his character still screams it. Life has been unfair to Woody. When he receives a scam notice that he has won one million dollars he sets off on foot to walk across four states to Nebraska to claim it. After police pick him up and return him to the fold, his son reluctantly agrees to drive him to Nebraska if for no other reason to shut him up.
You may well recognize some of your relatives in this movie. The long term, long-suffering but still bombastic wife is played brilliantly by June Squibb. Her sparring with Woody will seem familiar to many. She, a short, fat and feisty old broad, is out to show Woody he will not conquer her spirit. The subtleties of her character shine throughout the movie. Love, finally, rears its unfamiliar head, when Mama storms outside to tell the circling vulture relatives that she and her husband owe them nothing. She defends her cantankerous old fart as if he were her knight. Ain’t love grand?! The movie is validated with more brilliant acting by Bruce Dern, whose character, Woody, is impossible to like. He rarely talks to anyone, brooding, staring straight ahead. The only time he attempts any bonding is when he shames his son into having a beer with him. Stacey Keach, as Woody’s former partner who expects a cut of the million dollars is perfectly cast. And the family! OMG, the family! All the males come over to the sister-in-law’s house and sit in front of the TV watching sports, having a beer, and not uttering a word to each other. It is perfectly on point. When June Squibb follows Woody and her son to the local graveyard, she points out to her son who is who; it is a walk down Nostalgia Avenue. Wait for it…wait for it…then June, upon seeing a now deceased beau’s gravestone, stands over the grave, flips up her shirt and tells him to see what he missed. Absolutely hysterical. I love June. I love her survival instinct. I love her bossy, free spirit! It has kept her alive all these years.
Watch for Dern’s character to show a flicker of humanity. As he is permitted to drive the car for a few blocks by his son, he finally looks directly into his son’s eyes. For a moment, Woody has his manhood back, his self respect. I suspect that Dern and Squibb may be nominated by the Academy for this wonderful performance. They deserve it.