My parents are only in their fifties but I already worry about them aging. I worry that they won’t be able to keep up with their home, their land and that one might get dementia and the other won’t be able to handle it. For David (Will Forte) in Nebraska those worries are his reality. His father, Woody (Bruce Dern), believes he has won a million dollars in a mail scheme and is determined to get to Lincoln Nebraska to claim his prize. Even if it means walking there from Montana. David’s mother, Kate (June Squibb) can’t keep track of Woody whenever he decides to wander off and it’s more than she can take. David’s brother, Ross (Bob Odenkirk) doesn’t seem to care or take it seriously. So David decides to take his father to Lincoln, it’ll shut him up about this bogus prize and maybe give them a little more time to bond while his father’s mind is still around.
The word doesn’t come up much in the film, but most would diagnose Woody with early dementia. His mind isn’t sharp, but it’s not completely gone, he can recall old friends and stories. However, most of the time we wonder how present he really is. He’s usually quiet, but not in a thoughtful sense. And his history of alcohol abuse doesn’t help his mind any.
Their first night on the road, David finds out how hard it is to keep up with his father. While he’s sleeping, Woody wanders off, loses his teeth and when he returns to the motel, he hurts himself in the dark. When David shares the news of his father’s stitches in his head, his mother and brother decide to meet up with them in Hawthorn, their home town.
The film turns from a journey to rediscovering the past. We meet David’s extended family, his degenerate cousins, sweet old aunts, and uncles that look just as out of it as his father. We also meet old friends of Woody’s. When word gets out that Woody is about to become a millionaire, old debts are brought up and everyone wants a piece of the dough.
Nebraska is filmed in a rich black and white and I believe it is the best choice. Nebraska in the winter isn’t exactly colorful anyway, I assume the whole world would look washed out if it was filmed in color. From the old small towns, everyone’s attire and all the natural scenery, black and white seems the logical choice to bring the most contrast to the images. And it’s all so beautifully done, it earned a nomination for best cinematography.
The film has been nominated for five other Oscars as well. Among them are Best Picture, original screenplay. Alexander Payne received his third nomination for best director. Bruce Dern is nominated for lead actor and June Squibb is nominated for supporting actress.
Let me say that I loved Squibb’s role. She makes Kate the kind of old woman who doesn’t bite her lip and won’t take any shit. We get the sense that she kept the family afloat and moving over the years and she is not ready to back down yet. In a scene visiting the cemetery, she tells David about their family members there, without leaving out any of her crass remarks, “Nah, I liked Rose, but my God, she was a slut.” She even flashes and taunts the gravestone of a previous suitor. I especially love how she clears up any confusion on the cousins’ “volunteer work.”
After seeing all the best picture nominees, I would consider Nebraska my personal favorite film of the year. It is part road trip journey, and all family story, filled with a good amount of dark comedy and surprising moments that steal your heart. We feel sorry for Woody, identify with David and share their frustrations. And the end, I won’t ruin it, but Woody sure has a great son.
“Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!”