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Nebraska - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: A-
Editing: A-

Sometimes it can be difficult to gauge why a director chose to shoot a modern film in black and white, and honestly, it's hard to pinpoint a reason for Alexander Payne's Nebraska -- except that, somehow, it just feels right. The same could be said of the film's unusually slow pace, which does nothing to detract from the experience of the film. Audiences conditioned to rapid-fire editing in assembly-line Hollywood movies would likely get fidgety here, but this movie isn't for them anyway. And who needs them? Nebraska is unique, with a singular voice.

Granted, that voice is often very, very odd. There's something almost otherworldly to the dialogue delivery, if you pay close enough attention. In this world, each line is uttered distinct from the other; no one ever speaks over anyone else. Pauses between lines last slightly longer than they do in any real conversation. It takes some getting used to.

But Bruce Dern is bizarrely compelling as Woody Grant, the old man who refuses to acknowledge that the letter he got in the mail promising a million dollars is a sham. Since his frustrated wife, Kate (a wonderful June Squibb), refuses to drive him, Woody keeps attempting to walk to Nebraska, where the money is said to be. Mind you, he lives in Billings, Montana. There's something about Woody's obstinacy that just about any viewer of this film can recognize in at least one elderly member of their own family.

One of Woody and Kate's sons, David (Will Forte), takes pity on Woody. Woody refuses to stop trying to walk out of town, so David agrees to drive him to Nebraska. As it happens, Nebraska is also where Woody grew up, and so they accept an offer to stay at the house of one of his brothers. It's here in this small town that the bulk of the story takes place, with locals who knew Woody in his younger days coming out of the woodwork and claiming they are owed money. In the midst of this, Woody's wife and other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) bus down to join the sort of impromptu family reunion.

Woody is also an alcoholic, the kind who says, "Beer's not drinking!" Or who ends up in the hospital after drunkenly cutting his head on a hotel dresser and then asserting, "I don't drink!" He's otherwise a man of few words, rarely paying attention. Nearly every time David asks him anything, the response is "What?" and then David has to repeat himself, louder.

Really, Woody is kind of a dick. And Kate won't let him forget it. June Squibb is easily the most memorable performer here, what with Kate's constant haranguing of Woody, interspersed with reminiscence about all the men in the town who used to try to get into her pants. It could be argued that when she raises her skirt up over a grave and shouts, "See what you've been missing out on!" -- she gets a little over the top. The movie wouldn't be the same, or anywhere near as entertaining, without her, though.

Will Forte is hardly known as a dramatic actor, but he holds his own alongside Bruce Dern and June Squibb pretty well. Squibb is getting the bulk of the press for her performance, which actually borders on caricature -- if anyone really deserves recognition here, it's Dern. Unfortunately, understated performances rarely get the attention they deserve. But he is the center of this story and he single handedly holds it together. He is by far the most convincing. He seemd like an alternate-universe version of my grandfather. Well, one in which my grandfather isn't lazy. This Woody guy literally gets up and walks out of town. But he refuses to listen to reason, which is pretty relatable for anyone with obstinate elderly relatives.

The locals from Woody's past won't listen to David's assertions that Woody did not actually win a million dollars, either. It spreads all over town that there's a millionaire in their midst, and Woody, only barely conscious of why it's happening, gets bombarded with congratulations. And then, predictably, people insisting they owe him. This all happens at a very gradual pace, reflecting the town's way of life and the nature of its people. Things still come to a head, and watching an old lady shout at a bunch of relatives to go fuck themselves is worth the wait. Or at least it is when June Squibb does it.

In the end, there is a minor twist that renders Nebraska almost unbearably sweet. This is a very simple story about an old man with a confused sense of purpose, and a destiny that turns out to be surprisingly satisfying.

Will Forte, Bill Hader and June Squibb take a detour in NEBRASKA.

Overall: B+
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