It’s not just being shot in black and white that gives Nebraska such nostalgic beauty. The story, by screenwriter Bob Nelson, takes us on a familiar journey through the American mid-west to visit all those family members you don’t have anything to say to. The relationship we all have with our aging parents is tenderly played out with stunning performances from Bruce Dern, Will Forte, and June Squibb. That’s right, I said Will Forte. The comedian shines as Dern’s youngest son, David, who takes his father on a road trip to convince him that the sweepstakes junk mail isn’t a winning lottery ticket. The film is charming, funny, sad, and full of truth. Some people felt like the characters were poking fun at mid-west stereotypes but I didn’t feel like there was any malice behind the portrayal of small town people in Hawthorne, Nebraska.
Walking out of the theatre, I was thinking about my relationship with my grandparents. My nan, my dad’s mother, reminded me as a teenager that when I was very small, I told her I would grow up and make lots of money and then take her to McDonalds in a limo. I was dreaming big, clearly. She died a few years later while I was busy being a selfish high school kid too occupied to spend my days visiting palliative care at the hospital. I regret such few trips to see her and wish that I’d pulled my head out of my ass long enough to take her for a limo ride when she was healthy. I think the last few scenes of Nebraska captured David’s character making the effort I didn’t. Alexander Payne certainly knows how to make things feel personal.
My other grandmother lives in Phoenix. I visit her as often as I can and sometimes we even go to McDonalds. She counts out every penny to buy her coffee. We drive around in a golf cart and buy used books. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on sharing experiences with her, but I wonder how my mother feels sometimes. They live far apart and I don’t ever remember them taking off on adventures together. Travel can be expensive. But Nebraska really makes you feel like life is too short for all the stupid stuff we get caught up in, especially chasing money. My dad wasn’t really a guy who liked the kind of adventures you left the house for, but I certainly feel like I missed out when he died at 55. I’m getting all sappy and pathetic here, quick, back to interesting film discussion!
Although I was really impressed with the cinematography, story, and the lead characters, some of Nebraska’s background performances were terrible. I was removed from a few scenes by the acting and even leaned over to Matt in the theatre, incredulous, only to realize he was feeling the same way. Some of these might have just been a few lines of poor dialogue delivered a bit off, but next to so much other good stuff, it bothered me. Bob Odenkirk was good though and I really enjoyed Stacy Keach. Everyone will love June Squibb’s character in the graveyard, she’s fantastic.
So, see Nebraska. You’ll probably feel some feels, a bit guilty about family and a lot glad you escaped a small town, and you’ll definitely get the bug to road trip. Scenic vistas like that always inspire me to hit the road. There’s nothing like travelling to make you feel alive and connected to the world.
– Roz Y.