The premiere of Alexander Payne’s new movie “Nebraska” drew a prolonged and rousing standing ovation Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Reviews from key critics were strong, if occasionally qualified, positioning the movie as a possible Oscar contender next fall.
The Hollywood Reporter called “Nebraska” a “bittersweet father-son road trip through an emotionally (and) economically parched homeland” and said the movie’s stars, Bruce Dern and Will Forte, “got a bevy of bravos for their performances” from the Cannes audience.
Walking the red carpet at the premiere were Cannes jury members Ang Lee and Nicole Kidman (prizes will be awarded Sunday), along with director Jane Campion, model Heidi Klum and actor Richard Dreyfuss. Actress Laura Dern, who starred in Payne’s first movie, “Citizen Ruth,” accompanied her father to the premiere.
Actresses June Squibb and Angela McEwan were also present, drawing raves for their character acting in “Nebraska.”
Payne, an Omaha native, shot the movie mostly in small towns near Norfolk, Neb., last October and November. It’s his sixth movie, and his fourth shot primarily in his home state.
Here are excerpts from commentary posted after the premiere:
Manohla Dargis, The New York Times: "Mr. Payne takes a bit too long to get the movie into gear, but eventually David (Forte) and Woody (Dern) end up in a Nebraska town where they endure a sometimes funny, sometimes painful reunion with relatives and old friends.
"Shooting in black and white that is as simple, unfussy and unbeautiful as the modest homes in the movie, Mr. Payne draws an emotionally vivid, insistently unsentimentalized portrait of America and forgotten men. ...
"Payne maintains an amused ironic distance from his characters that may feel as if he’s condescending to them but is more truly an acknowledgment of life’s absurdity.”
Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times: “The impressive ‘Nebraska’ ... joins tart-tongued screwball comedy with unexpected poignancy and warmth to remarkable effect. Even more remarkable, given how good the script (by Bob Nelson) is, is the fact that Payne has been sitting on the project for nine years. ...
“(The movie) has some funny and pointed things to say about family, memory and getting old. ...
“Certain to make a strong impression is June Squibb, who plays Woody’s wife, Kate, an acerbic, exasperated woman who never says anything nicer to anyone than ‘You dumb cluck.’”
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: “A strong sense of a vanishing past holds sway over an illusory future in ‘Nebraska,’ Alexander Payne’s wryly poignant and potent comic drama about the bereft state of things in America’s oft-vaunted heartland. Echoing the director’s most recent film, ‘The Descendants,’ in its preoccupation with generational issues within families, how the smell of money contaminates the behavior of friends and relatives and the way Wasps hide and disclose secrets, this is nonetheless a more melancholy, less boisterous work.”
Scott Foundas, Variety: “Just as ‘The Last Picture Show’ was a movie made in the 1970s about the end of ’50s-era innocence, ‘Nebraska’ feels, despite its present-day setting, like a eulogy for a bygone America (and American Cinema), from the casting of New Hollywood fixtures Dern and Stacy Keach to its many windswept vistas of a vital agro-industrial heartland outsourced into irrelevance. ... Payne’s sixth feature is another low-concept, finely-etched study of flawed characters stuck in life’s well-worn grooves. ...
“Dern is simply marvelous in a role the director reportedly first offered to Gene Hackman, but which is all the richer for being played by someone who was never as big of a star. ... He conveys the full measure of a man who has fallen short of his own expectations.”
Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "The images — of highways and farms, of streets with shuttered stores, of tacky night-glowing bars and even tackier homes — are, I must say, breathtaking in a clean, spare way. If you’re going to shoot a movie in black and white ... then you’d better believe this is the way to do it: by making the images look like Ansel Adams collaborated with Diane Arbus and Edward Hopper.
“Is Payne, working from a script by Bob Nelson, mocking these people? Or does he have affection for them? Well, both. And probably more affection than mockery. ...
“‘Nebraska is a nice movie, and it goes through its paces in that patented Alexander Payne mode of acerbically touching homespun quirkiness. But at least a part of me is tempted to replace the word ‘mode’ with ‘formula.’”
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “Their story is laced with pathos, comedy and regret, recalling the classic indie cinema of Hal Ashby and Bob Rafelson. It is shot with almost Amish austerity in monochrome, which gives a wintry, end-of-the-world drear to that homely roadside Americana that Payne loves to pick out with his camera. ‘Nebraska’ may not be startlingly new, and sometimes we can see the epiphanies looming up over the distant horizon; the tone is, moreover, lighter and more lenient than in earlier pictures like ‘Sideways.’ But it is always funny and smart.”
Robbie Collin, The Telegraph: “Payne’s film is a bittersweet elegy for the American extended family, shot in a crisp black and white that chimes neatly with the film’s concern for times long past. ... This is a resounding return to form for Payne: There are moments that recall his earlier road movies ‘About Schmidt’ and ‘Sideways,’ but it has a wistful, shuffling, grizzly-bearish rhythm all of its own.”
Eric Kohn, Indiewire: "Alexander Payne’s movies walk a fine line between cruel satire and emotional truth, but in ‘Nebraska,’ it’s particularly hard to discern which is which. The black-and-white road trip dramedy might be his least essential work, but it’s also notably distinct from the rest of it. ... It’s a sad, thoughtful depiction of Midwestern eccentrics regretting the past and growing bored of the present, ideas that Payne regards with gentle humor and pathos but also something of a shrug.”
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