Nebraska – 5 out of 5
I don’t know for certain why it is but I have a soft spot for films that aren’t bubbly or happy. Bittersweet, sad, even downright depressing films are often some of the best movies I’ve seen in my life. There’s a magic quality to them that comes off as more authentic and realistic than films that contain the usual “The guy gets the girl” and “The hero saves the day” happy endings Hollywood is known for (that isn't to say I hate those type of films). And when those films are able to provide bittersweet moments that push away the sadness for a glimmer of hope but still stays far away from the ridiculous “Everything is now going to be perfect for our protagonist” endings, it makes something that feels…warm and genuine rather than sappy; it’s an amazing spectacle to witness.
And now that I started this review in the cheesiest way possible, here’s the synopsis…
Nebraska is about an older, confused man named Woody Grant (Bruce Dern). Woody gets one of those “You Could Win a Million Dollars” junk mail letters that anyone else would have tossed in the garbage or thrown into the fire they keep burning in their backyards for their dead homies; however, Woody thinks it’s legit and is ready to make the trip to—you guessed it—Nebraska to collect his sweet, sexy cash. Ignoring the logic laid out in front of him by his family, Woody stops at nothing to leave. Rather than see his father hurt and hoping to pacify his idealistic dream, Woody’s son David (Will Forte) decides to drive him. Along the way, they return to Woody’s home town and, unfortunately, his family and basically the entire town, believes Woody and his sudden good fortune and now they want a taste of the action. Especially Woody’s old friend Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), a man who feels he is entitled to some of that money because of past loans.
|I added this shocked still of Stacy Keach for no reason. Enjoy it!|
There’s nothing flashy or immediately attention-grabbing about Nebraska (unless black and white grabs your attention like a firework) but, man, did I enjoy this movie. There was a stark simplicity to the film (that was enhanced by the decision to have the film in black and white) that made the movie very memorable to me and capable of resonating inside my old noodle. The film is touching without getting too sappy, it’s humorous without getting silly and it’s dry without getting boring. Nebraska seemed to ride that razor-thin line where it could have easy fallen to one side or the other that could have destroyed the entire experience but it ended up being really enjoyable for me.
|Fun Fact: Bruce Dern is such a talented actor that he was able to make himself black|
and white so that they didn't have to adjust the color in post.
The film’s simplistic story was probably one of the biggest reasons it seemed to work for me. I saw a lot of familiarity with the interactions that Woody and David had to deal with when it concerns their family. The entire time I was watching it, there would be a scene where I would find myself saying, “Oh, that reminds me of my Uncle” or “Yep, my cousin would totally do that” or “That’s how I feel sometimes when I have to deal with my siblings.” While all of Woody and David’s interactions with their family and, more importantly, the greedy nature of some of the branches in their family tree may not have been the specific scenario that I could relate to with my own family, the basic structure of their back-and-forths definitely felt like how real families behave. That really had to have been the strongest thing the movie had going for it, in my opinion.
|Okay...my family doesn't have as much underlying animosity...|
The next strongest thing? The acting.
|Another strong thing...Stacy Keach. I heard he can bench press a Cadillac.|
The film has a fantastic cast and, very surprisingly, some members of the cast were able to break away from the usual comedies that we know them from to make a film that has its drama come first and comedy come away as minor byproduct. Bruce Dern does a fantastic job as the mentally broken Woody Grant and is able to keep the focus nearly entirely about him without having to say or do that much. However, it was the performance of Will Forte that really captivated me.
|I have that same face when I'm on the phone with my mother and she's telling me all|
about the people she thinks I know (but don't) and is telling me how they are doing.
I think Forte is a very funny man and I really enjoy the guy but I was slightly taken back by how good he was at this very dramatic role. You really feel the frustration he’s going through as he tries to educate all the people on the fact that Woody isn’t really becoming a millionaire and you see the change in him as he goes from a guy that’s just trying to humor his elderly father to a son who really wants to connect on an emotional level. Sure, this dynamic of an offspring and their parent going on a road trip and discovering that their early animosity was just a cover for their fear of opening up to each other is pretty flippin’ common in films but Nebraska was able to take that trope and twist it from a wacky comedy to a very real feeling drama that offers up a few chuckles along the way. This was achieved thanks to a great script but also thanks to amazing acting from the cast and their ability to make the characters feel genuine and relatable. Forte really nailed this dynamic and I could see a lot of myself in him as I watched.
|In fact, when I got up close to the TV screen, I magically could see my face projected|
While the movie really focused mostly on the relationship between Will Forte and Bruce Dern’s characters, the rest of the cast that composed the Grant family weren’t filled by D-list nobodies to occupy space until we see Woody and David doing the dynamic duo trip again. In fact, some of the most heartwarming and amusing moments were when the entire Grant family was together and taking on their greedy family members. June Squibb was adorable as Ross Grant, Woody’s wife. The way she would lay into him about the money was very funny but it also look EXACTLY how real life couples who have been married and have been putting up with each other’s shit for too long act like.
|Squibb also has a bit of a dirty mouth on her and is always talking about stuff you don't|
want to hear from your aging mother...so that only added to her adorable factor.
Then you had David’s brother Ross (played by Bob Odenkirk). I’m a big fan of Odenkirk; I think the guy is super hilarious but, thanks to a show that will go down as one of the greatest things I’ve ever watched on TV (Breaking Bad), I got to see that Odenkirk is capable of being funny and being dramatic at the same time. While Sal was a little sillier than Ross Grant, you get to see that Odenkirk is capable of leveling out the funny stuff and packing more of the dramatic building blocks on top of it in Nebraska. Then, when Dern, Forte, Squibb and Odenkirk all come together for their, unfortunately, short scenes, you see a group of actors that really come off as a family that looks no different than any neighbors any of us could have.
|Better call, Saul.|
Everyone in this film really played their parts well and all their interactions really came off as real—whether it be the family bickering over why they’re entitled to some Benjamins or why Ed Pegram feels that he and Woody’s partnership in the past means some cheddar must come his way. Add that to the perfect blend of realistic drama and just the right of amount of lighthearted moments and a story that feels sad and depressing for most of its run but is, in reality, sorta bittersweet but very uplifting, and you have yourself a concoction for a tremendous movie. Sure the movie has a tendency to move slowly because it’s all about character and that might turn away some viewers—Hell, the fact it’s black and white might turn away some viewers—but, all the possible viewers who won’t possible view this aside, I really enjoyed Nebraska. It’s touching, sweet, sad, heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time and it really made for a film that is just moving on a simplistic level. If you can get passed the lack of color and the fact its story doesn’t move at a breakneck pace, I'm sure everyone watching it can find something familiar to their own families.
|After watching it, I'm just assuming that Nebraska and all surrounding areas actually|
exist in black and white.