Director: Alexander Payne
Synopsis: Nebraska is a story about a family living in Billings Montana, who like many families today, are dealing with aging parents. In this case the dad they are caring for who is a little off, due to years of drinking as well as age. The father, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) believes he has won a million-dollar magazine sweepstakes and decides to go to Lincoln Nebraska to claim his prize. He begins his journey walking down a busy highway in Billings. The Billings police find Woody stumbling down the street, scruffy and a little unbalanced. They try to get his attention but Woody is focused on walking to Nebraska. The kind policemen pick Woody up and drive him to the police Department where the son David, (Will Forte), picks him up and takes him home. David asked his dad where he was going and his dad tells him Nebraska. Woody then shows David the letter he had received from the mail order sweepstakes, declaring him the winner of one million dollars. David tries to explain to his dad that he did not win and it is a scam only to sell magazines. Woody, tells his son, emphatically that he is a winner, and he will walk the 800 miles to Lincoln to claim his jackpot.
Once David has his father home, his outspoken mother, Kate (June Squibb) has contacted her older son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk). He comes over to the house and he and mom decide that the old man needs to go into a “home”. David, who is more sensitive than his brother and mother, decides he will humor his dad by driving him to Nebraska. He calls in sick at work and they leave on their trip. Their journey takes them through a few states but all Woody can do is think about the money he is going to pick up in Nebraska.
They spend one night in a motel on their way and Woody ends up in a Tavern. David goes looking for him and he finds him after a fall on the rail road tracks, with his teeth gone, after he has had a drunken fall and has a gash in his head. He takes Woody to a local hospital where they stitch him up and the doctor tells David he must stay for a few days because the gash on his head was pretty bad.
David decides he will take his dad to his home town of Hawthorne, Nebraska before heading to Lincoln. There they stay with Woody’s brother, sister-in-law and unmotivated cousins. Woody declares he has won a million dollars. His sister in law, then calls Kate and invites her to Hawthorne for a family reunion. Kate in turn tells Ross and she gets on a bus to Hawthorne. Brother, Ross decides to make the trip to Hawthorne.
While in Hawthorne, Woody shows David the auto shop he owned with his old friend, Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach). Woody and David go into the town’s tavern and see old friends including Ed. Ed once borrowed Woody’s compressor and never returned it. Woody tells David that Ed owes him $800.00 and he needs to collect the money from Ed.
While in the town tavern, Woody shows his friends the letter from the magazine, and tells everyone he is the winner of a sweepstakes. The word gets around the town and Woody is a celebrity.
David and his dad walk around Hawthorne. His dad begins to open up about his youth. The editor of their local paper asks Woody for an interview and picture. A young boy comes by the house and gets the picture. David decides to go downtown and explain to the owner of the paper that his dad did not win a million dollars. There, the owner tells David she dated Woody but she lost him to Kate who was the better women in Woody’s eyes. David gets information about his father that he never knew.
Once Kate and Ross arrive in Hawthorne they have the family party. Everyone knows about Woody’s so called new found fortune and many of them ask Woody for money. They each have a reason why Woody should give them money.
David learns a lot about his father. The family decides to take a ride around town. They stop at the local cemetery and Kate tells the boys about their relatives. She also informs them that her family isn’t buried there because they are buried in the Catholic Cemetery. They then go out to the old homestead to show the boys where Woody was raised. Woody opens up and tells the boys about his parents and siblings. He also tells them about how he build the house.
The boys decide to go out to Ed’s house and get the compressor back. One problem, they go to the wrong home and get an old compressor that was not Woody’s. In the meantime the family comes home. The couple are old friends of Woody and Kate. Kate tries to distract them while the boys return the compressor.
Ross leaves for home. David once again tries to tell Woody that the sweepstakes is phony and they should go home. Woody will have nothing to do with this so they go to Lincoln. Once in Lincoln they drive to the home office of the Magazine Company. Wood and David go into a rundown office and Woody shows a woman behind a desk his winning letter. She looks up his winning numbers and tells Woody he did not win. She tells Woody he can have a hat or another prize. He takes the hat and they leave. David asks his dad why he wanted the money anyway. Woody tells him he always wanted a black truck and he wanted to leave something for his boys.
David tells his dad that they will have to make a few stops on their way back to Montana. First they stop at a car lot and David trades in his Subaru for a black truck and tells Woody his name is on the title. They then go to a store where David purchases a compressor. David loads the compressor into the bed of the truck and they are off to Hawthorne. Once in Hawthorne, David drives close to town, stops the car, gets out and tells Woody to get into the driver’s seat. Woody is apprehensive, but does it. They drive around town, waving to family and friends. No one knows if Woody won or not, but he had his black truck!
Review: Nebraska, a road trip movie, directed by Alexander Payne and written by Bob Nelson is a movie like no other. The movie was in old style black and white made to look like movies from long ago. That said, I really enjoyed this movie. It was both a comedy as well as a drama. The actors portrayed their characters so realistically that I could see this family in some of my own relatives.
My thought after watching this movie was humility, especially from David in his attempt to get to know his father better. In their own way, Woody, Kate, Ross and David loved each other but Woody’s alcoholism had gotten in the way. Kate was tired and her life as a wife of an alcoholic and longtime caretaker had made her angry and abrupt. The boys had been affected. Ross became the over achieving television newsman, and David, who was afraid drinking would cause him to end up like his father, also feared commitment by putting off marrying his girlfriend of two years.
The script of Nebraska was very simple, which I found perfect for this down home movie. The dialog was quite simple and the actors played their roles convincingly.
I would recommend this movie to everyone, however I do not believe a younger audience would understand some of the nuisances of the movie, and I believe an older audience would be able to relate to this movie better especially the family dynamics.
There were some very funny parts of the film as well as sad moments. Woody, played by Bruce Durn was excellent and was nominated for an Oscar. Kate, the wife and mother played by June Squibb was as believable in role as a tired, cynical lady after years of marriage to an alcoholic. She was funny and in the end I got to understand her and why she was the way she was. The sons played by Bob Odenkirk (Ross) and David (Will Forte) were like many brothers. They both loved their parents but saw them differently.
The backdrop of the road trip was beautiful, rolling hills of the Dakota’s and beautiful mountains of Montana and Wyoming as well as the flat wheat colored land of Nebraska.
Don’t become disillusioned by this black and white movie. It moved along as it should and kept my interest throughout.