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Jan 27, 2014 — By: Kara Schroader
Woody Grant is no spring chicken. He may be old, drunken, and deranged, but he isn’t interested in slowing down anytime soon.
In Nebraska, directed by Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, The Descendants), accomplished actor Bruce Dern portrays 80-something Woody. Suffering from dementia, Woody has fallen into the bad habit of wandering off along the local interstate. His wife, Kate (June Squibb), is fed up with his antics.
However, Woody is on a mission. He’s just received a magazine sweepstakes coupon in the mail as the recipient of a one -million dollar prize. Since Woody no longer has a driver’s license, he intends to walk from his home in Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska (more than 800 miles) in order to claim his prize.
Woody’s son David, played by comedic actor Will Forte, tries explaining to his father the sweepstakes coupon is the oldest scam in the book. Woody, being the stubborn man he is, ignores his son’s logic. He strongly feels the million-dollar prize is his last chance to win something in life. David sees his dad’s ill-fated quest as a chance for quality father-and-son time and agrees to drive him to Lincoln, defying the objections of mom and brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk).
So begins this terrific road-trip movie. Shot in stark black-and-white, Nebraska is both grim and funny. It’s a potent mix, with everything rooted deeply in the culture of the mid-west. Dern won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for this career-crowning performance.
Nebraska moves at a comfortable pace across the plains of Middle America. You can’t predict where the two unlikely protagonists will end up next. They seem simple men at first, but Payne doesn’t leave them simple for long; past troubles and missed opportunities reveal themselves, but never too sadly. The plotting is sparse, focusing mostly on the characters—the illogical and determined father, the logical yet loving son, and the cantankerous, fed-up mother.
Like Woody’s son and wife, we know he’s being duped, but it’s hard not to hold out some sort of hope for the guy—that maybe some good will come of the trip. In the end, both father and son experience a brief triumph not to be missed.