[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00ICI26M2][/pullquote] Director Alexander Payne, whose previous films include The Descendants, Sideways and Election has gone to his family roots to draw inspiration for his latest film Nebraska.
In Billings, Montana lives Woody (Bruce Dern), an bad-tempered old man who has become frustrated with his own life and is known around town for his long, seemingly meaningless walks. It is only when his son David (Will Forte) talks to him to find out what he’s doing that he reveals his plan; to walk to Nebraska to claim a lottery win that he was informed about through a letter. David tries to point out that it’s a scam, but eventually agrees to go on a trip with Woody to prove it. On the way the pair run into old friends and family members, who learn of Woody’s ˜lottery win’ and begin to show their true selves in an attempt to get a cut of the winnings.
Using the road trip film structure, as he did in About Schmidt and Sideways, Payne is able to dislodge the comfort of his two lead characters in an attempt to bring meaning and substance to the routine of their lives. Whether or not these characters succeed in overcoming their varying levels of sadness becomes irrelevant and the film highlights the importance of stepping out of the norm every now and then as a way of reminding oneself of the importance of new experiences.
Nebraska‘s cinematography highlights the mundane yet glorious vistas available along some of America’s highways. The film is shot in a rich monochrome and the black and white adds depth and beauty to the variety of countryside shots. It also adds to the sense of cold and isolation to the already bittersweet story, while giving a false sense of pathos and artistic impression, which may make it appear to some to be more artistic than it actually is. The truth is that while all the elements are present, the finished experience is one of boredom and disappointment for the audience.
The characters outside of Bruce Dern’s Woody and June Squib’s furious and foul-mouthed Kate are two-dimensional and some of the performances suggest that the actors wouldn’t be out of place in a straight-to-DVD film. Lines are stumbled and tripped over with a hapless abandon, while key emotional scenes feel bereft of dramatic integrity and impact. In fact it is only Bruce Dern who saves Nebraska from appearing to be an out-and-out B-Movie and even his character isn’t charismatic enough to hold the audiences attention for the entirety of the film.
The narrative revolves around the desperate attempts of Woody to express his anger about having his adulthood stripped away in old age, and while the elements are in place for a great film, Nebraska falls apart in its delivery. The payoff is predictable and disappointing, and the over-arching sensation is one of disappointment and depression.