Nebraska is a total joy from start to finish – it’s a warm-hearted, melancholic ode to men of few words and families that don’t know how to express love. I think it’s easily Alexander Payne’s best film so far.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is elderly and confused, and when he gets some junk mail telling him he’s won a million dollars, he refuses to believe it’s not true, and is determined to go and collect his winnings in person from the company’s office in Nebraska. After all, would you trust the US mail with a million dollars? Against all advice and his own good sense, and after the cops have picked Woody up walking along the highway a few times, his son David (Will Forte) agrees to take him. The film follows their trip, stopping of for some quality family time with the cousins along the way. One of their first stops is at Mount Rushmore: Woody is unimpressed, after all they’re not even finished properly. But these solid, expressionless and unfinished men echo throughout the film.
The performances are without fail exceptional – Dern has already started filling his awards cabinet and there’ll certainly be more to come. But praise too should also be heaped upon June Squibb who plays his long-suffering, potty-mouthed wife who brought the house down more than a few times and who puts in a remarkable performance. Will Forte too is the perfect foil for his cantankerous parents, a man whose life isn’t quite working out how he would like it to and is struggling to find his place. It’s great to see Stacey Keach too, who has a really meaty role and makes the most of it. Payne gave a Q&A after the screening and told how the casting team had advertised across Nebraska to find the non-actors who populate the supporting cast, people whose faces told a million stories of hard lives and tough times. It sounded like an arduous casting, but one that’s really paid off.
Nebraska is very funny and incredibly moving – it’s also beautiful to look at, the black and white cinematography lets the lines on people’s faces tell the story. Definitely one of my picks of the festival.
I’ll own up straight away that I was underwhelmed by Sideways, so I wasn’t as beside myself with anticipation as some people were about Alexander Payne’s first film for something like seven years. This seemed to go in my favour though, as Payne himself asked the audience to forget about everything he had done before and come to this fresh. So fair enough.
It was la Clooney’s second red carpet of the festival, but with wrestler in tow and looking a lot more stunning than Mickey Rourke would in a frock, I steered clear. The Descendants is a simple tale of Matt King, a man dealing with some tricky revelations after his wife is left in a coma by a watersports accident (no sniggering at the back please). He has to reconnect with his daughters to find a way through the story that unfolds and the realisation that maybe he hasn’t been the best husband or father as well as dealing with a property issue that harks back to his ancestors and involves a whole field full of relations.
The story is deftly handled and adds more than a few laughs to the mix – not least from Nick Krause who plays Matt’s eldest daughter Alexandra’s best friend and gets some of the best lines. In fact, the strong cast (which I was delighted to see included Robert Forster) tackle their parts with warmth and raise the film from what could have been cheesy shmaltz into something much meatier.
It’s also fair to say that at one point Clooney does the best running ever seen in a film.