Nebraska

Director: Alexander Payne, Main Cast: Bruce DernWill ForteJune Squibb;

nebraska

How much do we truly know our parents? Alexander Payne might have been wondering the same while he was filming this story. The idea behind it is simple: a father and son road trip, which seems the premise for a sugary, heartwarming tale of rediscovery and bonding. Well, if you have seen Sideways or The Descendant, you won’t be surprised at what Payne comes up with instead. Although it is mainly Woody Grant’s story (Bruce Dern), an alcoholic and slightly senile retiree, we live it through his son David (Will Forte), an unassuming and sensitive stereo salesman. After Woody makes a few (failed) attempts to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska, from Billings, Montana, to claim his million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize (in reality a mail scam to get people to subscribe to magazines), David decides to drive him, ignoring his mother Kate (June Squibb) and his older brother’s protests and dismay. What follows are a series of adventurous mishaps (including hospitalization, loss of dentures, theft of a compressor) with a two days pit-stop in Woody’s hometown (Hawthorne, Nebraska) for a family reunion. We meet the Grant’s clan, Woody’s numerous brothers and their family, and stroll down memory lane. News of Woody’s riches spread through Hawthorne like wildfire, despite David’s efforts of setting the record straight, and several interested parties come knocking asking for a share. In the meantime, we learn also a few things about Woody’s past, as David talks with relatives, old family friends and neighbours. In the end David gives to his father what he really wanted since the beginning of the trip: a new pick-up truck and a new compressor. Beautifully shot in black and white, to better highlight its character-driven nature (it reminds me of old daguerreotypes) and the desolation of small-town America, this film gives a honest take on the elusiveness of familial bonds and the difficulties of really understanding the ones closest to us. A quote from Norman Maclean comes to mind: “it is those we live with and love and should know who elude us”.  On the other hand, Payne shows us the greedy, ignorant side of people, balancing the positive vibes with a healthy dose of cynicism. Dern is astonishingly good as booze-addled, semi-catatonic Woody and Forte works as perfect foil with his dutiful and remarkably patient David. June Squibb as Kate adds hilarious and venomous wit to this mix of eccentricity, kindness and world-weariness that portraits an ordinary, dysfunctional family life in a remote corner of America. Inspiring —7.5/10

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