Monday, December 2, 2013

Nebraska [2013]

MPAA (R)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (3 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (C. Lemire) review (A.A. Dowd) review

Nebraska [2103] (directed by Alexander Payne, screenplay by Bob Nelson) is the kind of movie that I wouldn't want to recommend to any particular family (because it could be taken the wrong way :-) but one that all/most older families (w. adult kids) ought to see.  For "just in time for the holiday season," the film's a "gift" for all those who'd think that their families "have problems" ;-).

Old and long-time problematic guy Woody Grant (played by Bruce Dern), a Korean War vet who never really returned from that War in one piece but rather spent the following, count them, 6 decades mostly "in a bottle," now in his eighties ... receives a piece of mail.  What's the piece of mail?  Well it's a sweepstakes letter telling him (as these letters ALWAYS DO) that (given nearly impossible conditions ...) he won $1,000,000 (!!).  Most of us receiving these obviously borderline fraudulent letters throw them away.  But poor Woody, in his 80s, his mind mostly gone due to Alcohol, now mixed no doubt with the onset of one form or another of Dementia/Alzheimers BELIEVES THE LETTER THIS TIME.  All he thinks he has to do is go from his home in Billings, Montana to the sweepstakes office in Lincoln, Nebraska, that's heck, only about an hour from his home town where he'd grown up.  How hard can it be?   FOR A MILLION BUCKS...

'Cept, that ungrateful family of his, wife Kate (played _superbly_ by June Squibb) and two grown sons Ross (played by Bob Odenkirk) and David (played by Will Forte) DON'T WANT TO TAKE HIM THERE.  Why?  Because, let's recall the reasons: (1) Most obviously, THEY KNOW IT'S A SCAM, and (2) they are all resentful of the guy for having been a terrible (and mostly drunk) husband and father throughout most of their lives.  So none of them is in any mood of "enabling him" in this self-evidently FOOL'S ERRAND.  So ...

Woody decides to go on his own (walk...) from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska, "only" 600 miles (!!) OVER OPEN COUNTRY (not a tree for miles in every conceivable direction) IN THE WINTER IN THE SNOW "to show 'em."  Wife Kate and older son Ross decide (initially) to "let him try..."  Younger son David, caves in first, and picks him up in his car some miles out and decides, as foolish and stupid as this Quixote-like quest may be, "dad's not gonna be around much longer," so why not ... maybe "on the journey" he'll "learn a thing or two" still about his dad.

And he does as we all do, as we the viewers join the two on this journey.  And as we follow the two, we begin to better understand Woody and his family and why they are the way they are.  By the time Woody and David make it to Woody and Kate's hometown, we find that the rest of the family's "caved" to Woody's dream quest as well.  Much ensues as different characters from Woody and Kate's hometown approach their surprising arrival with even more surprising news, even if we viewers (and most of the townsfolk, if they thought about it at all) realize that the "news" is, well ... NONSENSE.

Here I have to underline Kate's character (played as I've already said superbly by June Squibb).  Hers has got to be one of the best drawn characters of the year and certainly one of the best acted: If this film were viewed as a drinking game, and one had to take a drink every time Kate's character said something _nice_ about another person in the story, I do believe one would finish the film completely, utterly _sober_ ;-). For as smiling as she as Squibb plays her "sweet little old lady" role, I don't think there's a single nice thing that her character says about _anybody_ from family, friends to dead relatives in the entire film.

As such, this is why I don't think it'd be particularly wise to recommend the film to any particular family (as they might take it the wrong way), I think almost _every_ family would probably understand.  The characters are exaggerated but they also feel real.  And by the end of the film, even though it's clear that the family hasn't confronted _any_ of its "demons" ... one ALSO HONESTLY UNDERSTANDS.

This is a great, well written, well shot, low key "character piece" that will put smiles on a lot of faces even as we all hope we're a bit better, and better adjusted, than most of the characters in the film.  Still to most of us, the film will probably feel _a lot_ like home ;-)

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