Movie Review: 'Nebraska'

U/A: Drama
Dir: Alexander Payne
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Quibb

Writer-director Alexander Payne is one of the most influential filmmakers out there. Not only are his films heartfelt and beautifully observed but also darkly funny, subtly heartbreaking and guaranteed to move you. Anyone who has watched Election, About Schmidt, Sideways and The Descendants will tell you the same.

You don’t expect June Quibb’s character (centre) to be a major one but she brings the house down with her sarcastic fire
You don’t expect June Quibb’s character (centre) to be a major one but she brings the house down with her sarcastic fire

Payne’s latest effort, Nebraska, is familiar territory that screams vintage Payne — a road trip, a disillusioned old man, social barriers, psychological damage and the dark hilarity of it all. Some might call this a retreading of genre elements for Payne, and some might criticise him for delving into the same themes over and over again. On that front, Payne is doing what Woody Allen has been for all these years — taking similar themes and characters and making something new and interesting out of them.

Nebraska is Payne’s most minimalistic movie to date — shot in plain black and white, the film chronicles a road trip between a son (Will Forte) and his dad (Bruce Dern), who thinks he’s won a lottery in Nebraska.

Things aren’t so simple, seeing as the relations between the family members are painfully estranged. The father is a drunk, the mother is a cantankerous bitter woman, the son is a well-meaning but hapless sod stuck between the reality of his dysfunctional family and the mundaneness of the world that he inhabits. He knows that he’s taking his father on a wild goose chase to Nebraska and is worried about how to tell him that he didn’t really win any money. Everything is a mess, and happiness exists in the tiny cracks between rocky relationship dynamics.

While Dern has been getting accolades for his turn as the disillusioned old man, it’s kind of nice to see Will Forte take on this sort of role after being popular on Saturday Night Live and his comedic turn in McGruber. Most surprising is June Quibb as the mother — you don’t expect her character to be a major one and she brings the house down in a scene at a graveyard where she spits sarcastic fire. That one scene alone was enough to score her an Oscar nomination and she certainly deserves the trophy.

The film paints a very bleak picture of Midwest America and the world in general — it’s poignant and affecting, much like Payne’s other films, but you do wish he makes a comedy next instead of yet another heartbreaker.

There is only so much emotional stuff a film lover can take in one lifetime.

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