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.