Nebraska, the movie
For a guy who says he likes movies, I sure don’t get to many of them. This week, though, we did manage to sneak out and see Nebraska, the impressive black and white epic starring Bruce Dern as an alcoholic loser who is convinced he won $1 million in a magazine subscription scam.
Director Alexander Payne has already made two movies I liked–Sideways and The Descendants. He knows how to create a character and tell a story without explosions or car chases.
Dern gives a very deep performance as Woody Grant, the aging, stubborn, cantankerous, half-deaf alcoholic who insists that he has won a cool million in a magazine sweepstakes and needs to get to Lincoln, Nebraska from his home in Boise to claim his winnings. Can’t just mail it in, he doesn’t trust the Post Office.
Will Forte plays his son, David, living out a mediocre existence with a broken relationship and a dead end job selling home theater systems. Partly to assuage the old man, partly to just get away, David agrees to drive his dad to Lincoln to end this foolishness about the non-existent million.
Along the way, the stop in the small Nebraska burg the Grants are from, and have a reunion with the Woody’s many brothers. His wife, Kate, played by June Squibb, comes to join the party. Kate is a piece of work–a foul mouthed, bossy, obstreperous termagant who still follows all the gossip and knows everything that is going on in town.
Things happen. The womenfolk all sit and talk while the men sit and watch football. The town gets excited at Woody’s good fortune, then they start angling for a piece of it. The party ends, Woody and David go to Lincoln to claim the prize that isn’t, and then some more things happen. Some people live happily ever after, some not so happily. The end.
I liked this movie, and finally decided that it seemed to me to be more like a poem than a book. The long shots of the Big Sky country, the corn and wheat fields, the moments with the characters, are impressionistic more than declarative. You get to know Woody as much by the people around him as by his own actions. It’s a different way of telling a story, one that might not work in most cases, but it makes a beautiful movie.
I can’t leave this without mentioning an actress, Angela McEwan, who has a small part as Peg Nagy, a girl Woody dated before he married. She has a wordless scene right at the end of the film that is one of the greatest pieces of acting I’ve ever seen–in just a few seconds, her face conveys a lifetime of feelings. If you can get a Best Supporting Actress award for 5 seconds, she deserves it.
To be fair to everyone, Gail didn’t like this movie very much. I still think you will like it, but you pays your dime and you takes your chances.