2013 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

Confusing a freebie magazine coupon for for a million-dollar lottery ticket, octogenarian Woody (Bruce Dern) is hell-bent on heading 800 miles north to claim his winnings, even if it means walking. So his son David (Will Forte) finds himself compelled to take his dad on a roadtrip via his old hometown in this touching comedy/ drama from Alexander Payne, director of the Oscar-winning The Descendants.

Director

  • Alexander Payne

Cast

  • Bruce Dern

  • Will Forte

  • June Squibb

  • Bob Odenkirk

  • Stacy Keach

Review

It's not much of a stretch to describe Nebraska as a companion piece to Alexander Payne's previous effort, the Oscar-winning comedy/drama, The Descendants.

Payne has traded in the humid hills of Hawaii for the bleak, colour-less landscapes of Nebraska, but like The Descendants, this is a tale of family, history and the middle aged man trying to make sense of it all.

Woody (Dern) is a 70-something, clinging to his sanity. Ageing and tired, he's on a mission; he's received one of those magazine subscription adverts disguised as a winning lottery ticket in the post, and taken the 'million dollar prize' advert a little too literally.

So he sets off on foot to find the lottery company's HQ (800 miles north) and collect his winnings. Fortunately, Woody has a pair of grown up sons to look out for him, salesman David (Will Forte) and his TV presenter brother Ross (Breaking Bad's Bob Odenkirk).

It's largely David who comes to the rescue, picking his father up from the freeway and taking him back to the family's matriarch, Kate (June Squibb). But Woody's fixation on reaching Nebraska won't let up, giving David an opportunity to connect with his dad when he agrees to drive him to his destination.

Halfway along the road trip, the pair come across Woody's old hometown, still largely populated with friends and family from years gone by. David gets the chance to learn even more about his father, while Woody seeks the shot at becoming the boy who done good.

Despite a tone more humorous than dramatic, the setting, authentic and vast, and Payne's calm, deliberate camera work give off the feeling that we're glimpsing into the lives of real, true people.

And while it's the relationship between David and Woody that's at the movie's heart, Payne and screenwriter Bob Nelson find plenty of other relationships to explore; Woody's vast array of brothers, the dumb, greedy cousins, the odd former flame and, of course, Woody's own relationship with his wife.

What David learns about his father is far form sugarcoated and rarely heroic. But it is the truth, and as funny as that truth can be, it's also painfully real.

Forte's turn as David is admirable; it's about as natural a performance as you'll see this year, with Odenkirk reminding us that he doesn't rely on brilliant comic one liners to ply his trade.

But, ultimately. this is Bruce Dern's show, realising Woody in a pitch perfect manner, connecting him to anybody who's dealt with a stubborn, ageing father

Where many movies find payoffs in bombast, Nebraska finds it in life's simple pleasures. Woody may not be a millionaire, but that doesn't mean he's not winning.

Rich Phippen