Every year there seems to be that one film late in the year that is dismissed early on as an awards contender due to its lightweight subject matter only to become a four-quadrant hit and one of the strongest awards contenders of the year. Last year it was Silver Linings Playbook, which ended up becoming a major hit for The Weinstein Company, and surprised most with a big nomination haul at the Oscars. This year that film is definitely Nebraska. It won’t be the box office hit that Silver Linings Playbook was but Nebraska is quite the charming film and should be able to satisfy audiences (and voters) of all shapes and sizes. More importantly, with sturdier direction and a cast just as interesting, Nebraska comes across as a more natural story than the one presented in Silver Linings Playbook.
Nebraska follows David (Will Forte) as he tries to deal with his aging father’s inability to listen to those telling him that his “Subscribe to a magazine and get a chance to win $1 million” letter isn’t a ticket to a million dollars. With life not being what he wanted it to be, David sees this as one of the last opportunities to spend time with his father (Bruce Dern) so he takes him on a trip to Nebraska on a quest to get that money. The film is directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways & The Descendants) and is written by Bob Nelson (making his feature film screenwriting debut).
It’s really nice when a director and writer have great chemistry together, and Alexander Payne and Bob Nelson clearly have some. Bob Nelson wrote a solid script. The only problem with it is that it plays a little too safe. Payne somehow finds a way to keep Nelson’s story at the forefront while adding in some of his own vision. Yet Payne’s vision never overplays the script, it ends up as a nice compliment to it instead. Yes, the storyline and the black-and-white visual style sound like a bore, but in the hands of these two they are anything but.
Bruce Dern seems to be the performance everyone is buzzing about out of this film. It’s a solid performance. It’s a little one note, but Dern finds some time to add subtleties to the performance in the later half of the film. Yet I don’t understand why he is being singled out in comparison to Will Forte and (especially) June Squibb. Forte not only works but shines in a much more dramatic role than he is used to doing. Meanwhile, June Squibb is quite the scene-stealer as the wife of Dern’s character and mother of Forte’s character. She has perfect comedic timing and, despite playing the nagging wife, comes across as the most likeable character. Bob Odenkirk and Angela McEwan also do some good supporting work as the other son of Dern and Squibb’s characters and a former girlfriend of Dern’s character respectively.
Nebraska is a charming film that will have something for everyone to like.