Nebraska (2013)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 11, 2013 @ tonymacklin.net.

Nebraska is The Last Picture Show (1971) without the picture show.

Photographed in black and white, it's mostly set in fictional Hawthorne, Nebraska, which lacks even tumbleweeds. I suppose the bleak town has seen better days, but I wonder.

I've never been to Nebraska, but is it on the other side of Mars? Is it peopled with dull and venal cartoon characters? Native Nebraskan director Andrew Payne seems to think so; he surely makes the dim-witted populace in the movie into figures of parody.

From the film it's hard to imagine that witty Johnny Carson hailed from Nebraska. But then Larry the Cable Guy does, too.

At times I thought I was watching Invasion of the Cornhusker Body Snatchers.

Nebraska is the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who fiercely holds onto the fantasy that he has won a million dollars in a magazine promotion. He insists on travelling from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim his prize money. Even if he has to walk there.

Woody starts out on fairly feeble foot several times.

Eventually his son David (Will Forte) agrees to drive his addled father to Lincoln by way of a stop in Hawthorne to see relatives. In Hawthorne they are joined by Woody's wife Kate (June Squibb) and later by his other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk).

The people in Hawthorne find out that Woody has "won a million dollars," and guess what? The ones who are still awake turn into vultures. Who would have imagined?

The mother tries to spice things up by telling how when she was young all the boys in Hawthorne wanted to get in her "bloomers."

Does it sound provocative yet?

Bruce Dern gives an almost non-performance as forlorn Woody. His mouth often is agape, and he looks old. Dern paired up with Jack Nicholson in one of my favorite films - Bob Rafelson's The King of Marvin Gardens (1972). Dern was a firecracker.

Now as Woody, the firecracker has fizzled out.

Will Forte, as the obliging son, keeps the film grounded in the dusty absurdity. David is cool, loyal, and caring.

June Squibb as Kate has a role mostly given to speaking outlandish quips. Stacy Keach is effective as Woody's old business partner - living on the edge of sleaze.

The writing by Bob Nelson finds some humor in emptiness - empty conversation, and empty spaces.

The direction by Alexander Payne, using black and white, creates a gray mood.

Fortunately, after the long, hapless trek, the film has a nice payoff.

It's not a million dollars or a ticket out of Nebraska, but it's worth something to Woody and his son.

And, maybe, to the audience.

And, they get to leave the theater.

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