One of the most unique comedies of the year: a spot-on look at small town life and regrets in the Midwest.
Nebraskan director Alexander Payne knows from what he speaks in this look at life in economically-depressed small town Middle America. Don’t get the wrong idea. It’s a comedy, albeit a wry one with lots of homespun humor and philosophy. Oh- and it’s shot in black and white, which artfully highlights the stark, plain , directness of its subjects and the geography.
Once again, Payne (who also helmed “The Descendants”) takes to the road, as he did in the much-acclaimed “Sideways”. This is the much underrated Bruce Dern’s film from start to finish, though June Squibb, as his wife, steals almost every scene she’s in. We saw her briefly in the 2002 Alexander Pyane movie, “About Schmidt”, when she keeled over and died in an early scene, leaving the dominated Jack Nicholson a widower, giving him a chance to reinvent his life. Both Dern and Squibb should be making appearances at the Oscars.
With his words spoken few and far between, Dern’s face and mannerisms capture the aging, regretful alcoholic Woody Grant, who is convinced he’s won a million dollars in a magazine sweepstakes. With his spunky wife saying she’d use the money to put the old codger in a home, Woody’s younger son (a surprising turn by “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” actor Will Forte) indulges him and takes him on a 750 mile trip to try to collect the prize. Along the way, they stop and visit family, friends and old enemies who all buy into the story , believing the aging alcoholic is about to become a millionaire, revealing their own greed , jealousies and regrets. Son David finally gets to know his dad over the long road trip.
It’s as if “Nebraksa” is the artwork “American Gothic” come to life. One of the best films of the year, it’s also one of the best comedies. Not to mention the acting, directing and writing- all at the top of their game. The icing on the cake: the score is brilliant and unforgettable. An American masterpiece??? You Betcha!!!