Nebraska (2013)

Will Forte and Bruce Dern in Nebraska (2013)

“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.

3 stars

9 thoughts on “Nebraska (2013)

  1. I completely agree, this was very disappointing to me. It was like spending a few hours with old dull people and their mopey son. The small parts were sharp, which made the main characters evn more frustratingly dull. 111 / 200

    • It sounds like I lked it more than you! I actually didn’t mind Woody or Kate (though I agree that David was too mopey, and Forte’s sadsack performance didn’t help matters), but it did seem like Payne surveyed them with some degree of contempt. There’s a bit to like in the film, but not enough to warrant a BP nom. Thanks for the comment 🙂

      • I was a bit harsh, but having LOVED “Election”, “Sideways” and “About Schmidt”, I just didn’t enjoy this…heightened expectations perhaps….

  2. Great review. And agreed, mostly.

    I think Dern is great. But in this crowded Best Actor year, I never would have nominated him. Jordan, Whitaker, Redford, Mikklesen, and more deserve the nomination over him. Not to mention Hanks, who, in my opinion, deserves the win, nevermind the nomination he didn’t receive.

    • Oh, yeah, Dern wasn’t bad but, as you say, how he pushed people like Mikkelsen and Hanks out of contention (I haven’t seen Fruitvale Station nor All is Lost yet) is a little confusing, and must be linked to his age/status. I’m still rooting for Ejiofor!

      • I would be equally alright with McConaughey or Ejiofer. As all signs point to one of them being most likely, I have no rooting interesting in the Lead Actor category.

  3. Good review Dave. Not Payne’s best by any stretch, but still a very sweet, funny and sometimes heartfelt film that gives us a glimpse at America that we don’t usually see done in the movies, and makes us wonder why, considering they’re so lovely and charming to visit.

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