*** 1/2 out of 5
Rated R for some language
Article first published as Movie Review: 'Nebraska' on Blogcritics.
There’s a time and a place for a film like acclaimed director Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. It’s called Sundance. While character films are nothing new for Payne, Nebraska
is certainly a change of pace—that of a crawling snail. While there are
laughs to be found, especially when the two main actors are Will Forte
and Bruce Dern, they’re pretty scattered throughout a slogging running
time of nearly two hours. This is the kind of film that calls attention
to itself being released in a limited run merely to try and scrounge up
Oscar buzz. Ironically, the one person who actually succeeds here is
June Squibb, playing Dern’s wife and Forte’s mother with one of the
wickedest tongues this side of Kathy Bates.
refers to the state’s capital city of Lincoln, which is where Woody
Grant (Dern) is headed to on foot when he’s picked up by a police
officer. Woody’s son Grant (Forte) retrieves him and takes him home to
his wife Kate (Squibb). Woody explains that he was on his way to Lincoln
to claim the $1 million he thinks he has won in a sweepstake. Kate and
Grant know that it’s a marketing ploy, but after Woody takes off on his
own again by foot, Grant decides to appease his father and drive him to
claim his prize. Along the way, the two stop at Woody’s brother Ray’s
(Rance Howard) house. Soon enough, the whole town is hearing about how a
local boy makes good and wants a piece of the pie. Woody and Grant also
meet up with Woody’s old buddy Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), who feels like
Woody owes him $10,000. Along the way, Grant comes to understand more
about his poor father than he ever thought he would.
Another father/son film has come out this year that is superior to Payne’s efforts here: About Time.
Both films have far different motives, but the biggest thing they have
in common is that no one is going to see either of them—at least if About Time’s box office is any indication. Walking out of Nebraska,
a colleague and I both felt like we’d walked out of a Press &
Industry screening at Sundance. Thankfully, Payne’s cast makes up for
the slog of a screenplay by Bob Nelson. Bruce Dern has already won Best
Actor at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and the film was nominated for
the Cannes Best Picture prize, the Palme d’Or. But I doubt we’ll see Nebraska vying for Best Picture at the Oscars.
Forte shows he can do more than the silly characters we’ve come to expect after being on Saturday Night Live and MacGruber,
but Squibb steals the show. Her barbs come fast and furious and the
most unexpected things spill forth from her verbal diarrhea. If anyone
really stands a chance of being recognized at the Oscars, it’s going to
be Squibb and Dern. This is their show and they both perform admirably.
The funniest bit involves Ed singing Elvis Presley’s “In the Ghetto.”
The film features a deserved payoff but takes way too long to get to it.
Had Nebraska been shaved down by about 20 minutes to a half hour, it could have zipped along into greatness. As it stands, Nebraska is the type of film where you’re glad you’ve seen it—and you should—but will probably never watch again.
Photos courtesy Paramount Vantage