“I can’t remember. And it doesn’t matter.”
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) responds with the above when his son, David (Will Forte) asks about his childhood dreams. That kind of no-nonsense refutation of warmed-over romanticism is critical to Nebraska’s appeal, which tells the story of Woody’s journey to Nebraska, fuelled by his delusional conviction that he’s won a million dollars.
For most of the film, director Alexander Payne conveys the lyricism of the ordinary; peeling paint, pick-up trucks, crummy karaoke. The black-and-white photography grants the rural Americana an overcast, cool atmosphere that suits the low-key narrative. Everything here is low-key: the comedy is dry while the drama never heats up beyond a gentle simmer. For the most part, Nebraska’s execution satisfies its modest ambitions. Unfortunately, much like Payne’s The Descendants, the film devolves into mawkish, contrived sentimentality, undercutting the blunt, subdued naturalism of the first two acts.
Best Picture? Best Actor? Not so much; the film is too slight to be in contention for the former, and Dern is, well, fine. June Squibb, as Woody’s wife Kate, deserves her Best Supporting Actress nomination, stealing practically every scene she’s in. More of Kate’s bluntness and less sappiness is exactly what Nebraska needed.