Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: Nebraska

A story about a dysfunctional Wyoming family dealing with their alcoholic and Alzheimered patriarch didn’t strike me as a good way to spend two hours. But I was talked into it and wandered out into one of these not so cold nights we've had recently just to be an accommodating partner.

From the very first scene I knew that I was in the company of someone who understood aesthetics, human dynamics, love, and the pressures of the American Dream. The director, Alexander Payne, is most well known for The Descendents, which starred George Clooney and is probably one of the highest attended movies that The Bookshelf has ever shown. Wikipedia says that Payne was actually born in Nebraska and his parents (Greek and German immigrants) owned a restaurant there.

The storyline goes like this: The delusional father, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), is sure that he has won a million dollars. He received some flyer in the mail that hoodwinked him. The sweepstakes requires him to go to Lincoln to pick up his winnings. His wife (June Squibb), who is funny, repulsive and endearing throughout, is fed up with Woody. Number two son, David (Will Forte), gives up trying to change his dad’s mind and decides to take him to Lincoln to play out his father’s ridiculous fantasy. On the way, they meet up with their whole extended family. Even the mother agrees to come along for a ride. Of course, the playing out of this addled figment does not go well, as you might well imagine. But the last scene makes it all worth while.

Forte, Dern, and Payne

I’m not sure how Payne was able to put together a bleak movie in which the audience giggled all of the way through. Perhaps it was the great script, maybe the quality of acting. How did he make such a visually stunning film which was set mainly inside a car, inside homes painted with despair, or in seedy bars with troupes of sad people who, yup, just drinking their beer.  And did I mention that it was shot in black and white? Perhaps because Payne grew up in a restaurant and this painted the human condition for him, and perhaps because he understood how the American Dream was really a nightmare for many. Or perhaps he is just in love with all of life around him regardless of who they are or what kind of car they drive. At any rate, I'm just glad that I made it out the door that night!

- Barb

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