Dysfunctional families can be incredibly funny, especially when they are not your own. “Nebraska” packs a powerful punch, even when its villains are at their worst.
It’s a true piece of independent Americana with many of the conventions of the best modern Westerns. You even get a couple of saloon showdowns.
Bruce Dern is an astonishing actor and this may be his finest performance ever. His character decides to walk from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to chase a million dollar prize despite everyone in his family telling him there is no prize and it’s only a marketing scam.
Woody isn’t allowed to drive, because of his alcoholism and health issues.
There are echoes here of “The Straight Story” but a beautifully-written script by Bob Nelson and taut direction by Alexander Payne make this an absorbing tale about the various entrenched attitudes in the family members. Mark Orton’s evocative music fits the mood of each scene.
As it develops into a road movie, you see bits of the USA that don’t often make it onto film. Even when places are familiar, there’s an offbeat and irreverent twist. Woody sees Mount Rushmore and says: “it’s not finished” and then goes into Woodyesque detail about why what he says is true.
Son David (Will Forte) and wife Kate (June Squibb) are excellent and bring different approaches to handling Woody’s pigheadedness.
Bob Odenkirk as Woody’s son Ross and Stacy Keach (old friend Ed) have superb moments too.
But this is Woody’s story and it’s Bruce Dern’s performance that provides the great big heart at the centre of this. His warmth and acting skill lift this movie to being quite extraordinary.
Few films tackle getting old with such original irreverence.
At nearly two hours and filmed in black and white, I found it hard going at times but incredibly rewarding, as a whole. It certainly features the best resolutions of all the strands in any film I have seen this year.
One warning; don’t judge this on the trailer which is very boring. I was going to skip it until a friend raved about how wonderful it was and it is rewarding, funny and deep.
The Stratford East Picturehouse was mostly made up of art house movie lovers and none of them decided to sneak a peek at their watches, as I did, twice.