Film review: Nebraska is truly special


Damian Galbarini checks out the new film from Alexander Payne, the director of ‘Sideways’ and ‘The Descendants’:

We open to a smoggy, traffic-congested freeway, appearing all the more desolate when drenched in black and white tones. From the distance, a lonely, old man shuffles along, seemingly unaware of the cars busily speeding past him. A concerned police officer soon pulls up next to him.

“Where are you headed, partner?” he asks.
“There” replies the elderly man, pointing out in front of him.
“Well, where are you coming from?”
He gestures behind him. “Over there”

And thus the tone is perfectly set for Nebraska.

It follows the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) and his journey from Montana to the titular state in order to claim his alleged million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Also going along for the ride is his son David (Will Forte) even if he merely only intends to keep his semi-senile father out of trouble.

What the film lacks in pace, it more than compensates for with its characters and dialogue. Dern in particular delivers his lines with such a brilliant simplicity that is instantly endearing and his honest, charming portrayal of Woody is cemented as the role that he will be remembered for.

Forte is outstanding as a middle-aged man still trying to figure out his purpose in this world, overshadowed by his go-getting older brother, played by Bob Odenkirk (Saul Goodman from Breaking Bad).

However, the show is truly stolen in the form of Kate Grant (June Squibb) quite possibly the nagging movie wife and mother to rule them all. Once she crashes the party during a stop in Woody’s sleepy, rural hometown of Hawthorne, the side splitting comedic side of the film takes control. Never quite knowing what inappropriate remark she will make next is a true spectacle to behold.

For all the laughs delivered, there is also rarely a moment that does not also reach us on some sort of relatable level. It is a very human film in the sense of our nature and the cycle of life, particularly when the town hears about Woody’s new found ‘fortune’. Charity is demanded and as expected, bridges are unwillingly burned with old friends and family as unexpected money is wont to do.

Likewise, as David meets people from his father’s younger years, all he seems to be taught in return is about the harsh reality of aging. That everything seemingly preoccupying the youth – love, relationships, gripes and aspirations will eventually and inevitably fade away as the decades pass by and are replaced by new memories and encounters. A daunting thought for anyone to acknowledge.

Payne has crafted something truly special in Nebraska. A charming, heartwarming yet hilarious story rooted into a profound lesson about life and family.

Anyone with a beating heart should see this film.

Review by Damian Galbarini. Nebraska is in cinemas now.