'Nebraska' review: Characters will lure viewers with small-town roots - Omaha.com
go logo
article photo
article photo
article photo
article photo
Will Forte plays David Grant, left, and Bruce Dern is his father, Woody, in “Nebraska." Alexander Payne shot the movie mostly in small towns near Norfolk, Neb.(PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
article photo
From left, Dennis McCoig plays Uncle Verne, June Squibb is Kate Grant and Bruce Dern is Woody Grant in “Nebraska.”(PARAMOUNT PICTURES)
article photo
David Grant (Will Forte) stars in “Nebraska,” about a booze-addled father who makes a trip to Nebraska with his son.(PARAMOUNT PICTURES)


'Nebraska' review: Characters will lure viewers with small-town roots
By Bob Fischbach / World-Herald staff writer


It's a small, relatively simple story, intensely human.

A 40-something son takes a road trip with an aging, irascible father he's never really connected with or understood. In the process, he begins to see the old man in a new light.

Director Alexander Payne elevates “Nebraska,” a spare, sharply drawn dramedy set in his home state, to something rare and beautiful with trademark dry wit and his gift for capturing the essence of a particular place — a small town and the rural Great Plains, in this case.

The movie's beauty doubles if, like me, you grew up in a small Plains town. Bob Nelson's screenplay (clearly tweaked by Payne) is packed with instantly recognizable characters. The way people talk, a small-town way of keeping tabs on each other, a mindset about the outside world — it all came flooding back, making me double over in recognition and laughter time and again.

Wherever you're from, there's universal appeal in the stark beauty of Phedon Papamichael's black-and-white cinematography. Wistful autumn horizons; denuded trees and fields; thin, high clouds. Peeling paint and decaying wood. Humble, worn main-street storefronts from the turn of the century.

The father-son story, as well, will feel familiar to many. Woody and David Grant share something in common they don't recognize: disquiet as they look at the sum of their lives so far.

Early signs of dementia have ended Woody's driving days. But stubborn, boozy Woody (Bruce Dern) is focused on getting from Bozeman, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., to claim $1 million he thinks he's won in a publishing sweepstakes. His angry wife, Kate (June Squibb), and son David (Will Forte) try to tell him it's a marketing come-on to buy magazines. Doesn't matter. Woody's going.

So David goes with him, hoping to steer him away from trouble. That's tougher duty when they land in tiny Hawthorne, Neb., the family stomping ground of Woody's youth. When word gets out that Woody's a millionaire, relatives and old friends misbehave, angling for a slice.

Forte, playing something of an earnest sad sack, brings great humanity to David, and Dern gives one of his most natural, underplayed performances as stubborn but vulnerable Woody. Squibb, who was Jack Nicholson's wife in “About Schmidt,” gives extra bite to Kate's acid tongue — a truly memorable and funny performance. Stacy Keach is just right as a slightly menacing loudmouth.

As usual with Payne movies, perfectly cast unknowns in cameo roles delight: Mary Louise Wilson as Woody's careworn sister-in-law; Angela McEwan as an old flame from his youth; Tim Driscoll and Devin Ratray as David's lunkhead cousins; Rance Howard (Ron's dad) as Woody's taciturn brother; Bob Odenkirk as Woody's other son.

City folk might not entirely get “Nebraska,” and the black-and-white cinematography, which feels so right for this story, could limit its draw with younger moviegoers. In those ways it might not have the broad accessibility of Payne's last movie, “The Descendants.”

But his gift for storytelling that combines great humor and heart — but never sticky sentimentality — continues. So does his focus on older men unhappy with where they find their lives. An overlying sadness is tempered with hope and humor.

Payne's moviemaking craft and care are evident everywhere in “Nebraska,” from casting, location and soundtrack choices to editing, filling the frame and pulling spot-on performances from his leads.

“Nebraska,” small yet profound, will be a player as the award season unfolds.

* * * * *

NEBRASKA

Quality: Three and a half stars (out of four)
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach
Rating: R for profanity, frank sexual talk
Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Theater: Film Streams

Contact the writer: Bob Fischbach

bob.fischbach@owh.com    |   402-444-1269

Bob reviews movies and local theater productions and writes stories about those topics, as well.

Read more stories by Bob


Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom


Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

Latest Stories

Omaha shop's ice cream named one of the best in the U.S.
Omaha shop's ice cream named one of the best in the U.S.

Ted & Wally’s Ice Cream is featured in a new book focused on the best ice creams across the nation.


Lincoln's Pershing Center announces what might be its final concert
Lincoln's Pershing Center announces what might be its final concert

Arena will probably go out in a flame of Goo Goo.


Missing 3-year-old boy found in claw machine at Lincoln bowling alley
Missing 3-year-old boy found in claw machine at Lincoln bowling alley

He was uninjured and playing happily with the stuffed animals in the machine.


How to win a $4,300 ‘Walking Dead #1' comic while also doing something nice
How to win a ,300 ‘Walking Dead #1' comic while also doing something nice

A local comic book shop is once again raffling away a pricey issue for a good cause.


Omaha, Lincoln record stores ready for their day in the sun
Omaha, Lincoln record stores ready for their day in the sun

If you’re dying to get some cool swag on your record shelf, Record Store Day is the most wonderful day of the year.


'American Idol' tour to play Council Bluffs' Stir Cove
'American Idol' tour to play Council Bluffs' Stir Cove

The show's season finale will air on May 20, and the tour of the show's top 10 finalists will begin about a month later on June 24.


Review: ‘Heaven is for Real’ leaves it to viewer to interpret its story
Review: ‘Heaven is for Real’ leaves it to viewer to interpret its story

My first reaction to “Heaven Is for Real” after a recent preview screening: best Christian-themed movie I’ve seen in quite a while. Two weeks later, that hasn’t changed.


Nebraska family and town depicted on the big screen in 'Heaven is for Real'
Nebraska family and town depicted on the big screen in 'Heaven is for Real'

Imperial family feels Colton's inspirational story got heaven-sent production and reverential handling


What to watch: An all-new 'Americans' on FX
What to watch: An all-new 'Americans' on FX

In this week's episode, Philip and Elizabeth both face painful turns in their respective missions while Stan tries to access an American military program.


5 religious movies to watch again

Sunday is Easter. That, combined with the opening of “Heaven Is for Real,” put us in mind of some of our favorite Christian-themed movies.


 
Search
Movies Opening this week

Movie showtimes and theater listings






Read this!








VIDEOS

Tonight in Prime Time
© 2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved