LFF Review: Nebraska

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Nebraska_PosterStarring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacey Keach

Directed by: Alexander Payne

We all know elderly people who believe whatever they’re told, and some who are a little too stubborn for their own good, so it’s very likely anyone who watches Nebraska will see something familiar in the lead character. Alexander Payne’s latest film stars Bruce Dern in the lead, alongside Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacey Keach and Bob Odenkirk.

After receiving a letter stating he’s won a million dollars, Woody Grant is adamant to get to Lincoln, Nebraska where he can collect his prize, except he cannot drive and his wife (June Squibb) won’t take him. After a few attempts to get there himself, on foot, he convinces his son, David (Will Forte) to take him. Along the way, they stop in Woody’s hometown, Hawthorne, and run into family, old friends, and acquaintances he hasn’t seen in years.

Not much happens in the film, plot-wise, instead it’s much more about the relationship between father and son, as well as exploring human nature in general. Woody himself isn’t all there in the head anymore, though whether he has something specific like Alzheimer’s is never mentioned, and people try to take advantage of that, apparently as they have been for all his life. He doesn’t remember that much of his life before he moved out of Hawthorne, but his wife, Kate, certainly does, and her defending him or correcting others provide some amusing moments.

Bruce Dern won Best Actor at Cannes for his performance in Nebraska, and it is very much deserved. Maybe I’m just prejudiced, but there are very few performances of older characters that I actually like, but I think it’s rare that they’re done such justice. Will Forte is on screen a lot with Bruce Dern, and in comparison his acting is just okay. There’s something about his delivery of dialogue that just doesn’t seem natural enough. June Squibb is alright as well, but I think having funny lines makes her performance much more likeable. The smaller characters are made up of non-actors, people Payne and his casting director scouted from small towns in America, though if you didn’t know, you’d think they were actual actors.

I feel like I should mention it’s shot in black and white, though to me it didn’t seem particularly significant for the story. In fact, in my head I think I remember certain scenes as if they were in colour, even though they weren’t. I wasn’t expecting to be so taken by the film, but I laughed a lot, and found it very touching. I think too often parent-child relationship films can end up being too heavy, which works in some cases, but I liked how enjoyable this was, and I think it’s down to Payne for making it so – some other director might have gone the heavy way. This is the first time Alexander Payne has directed something that wasn’t written by him, though I think it seems to fit his filmography fairly well.

Nebraska will release in the USA on November 22nd, and in the UK on December 6th.

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