“Nebraska” Isn’t Not About Nebraska

March 26, 2014

in Movie Reviews

  • SumoMe

Nebraska (the movie) isn’t about Nebraska (the state).

Sure, it was filmed  in Nebraska, but also in Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota.

So it could just have well have been named after one of those other states of the union, or Nemowyosod, a meaningless word made up from letters found in the names of all four of them.

But unlike the majority of films reviews on Tales Told From The Road, Oscar-nominated Nebraska isn’t about “location, location, location!”

So what that heck is it about?

Nebraska is about almost unbelievable gullibility and guile.

Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a grizzled, liquor-guzzling, gullible old fool who believes he’s won a million bucks based on a certificate he received in the mail ala the old Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes magazine promotions.

All Woody think he has to do to collect his prize winnings is travel from his home in Billings, Montana, to the company’s office in Lincoln, Nebraska. He no longer drives—presumably alcoholism has cost him his license—so he sets out on foot to hoof it the 800-odd miles to where his pot of gold sits awaiting at the end of the rainbow.

To make a long story (and at just under two hours in length, Nebraska sometimes seems like it goes on endlessly), Woody’s son David (Will Forte) finally agrees to drive his father to Lincoln, with stops along the way for a “drive by” of Mount Rushmore, and a weird weekend layover in the small town where Woody grew up.

David, his brother Ross, and mother Kate (who is as wacky as Woody, in her own right) know that the million dollar “prize” is just a scam. But Woody is certain he has struck it rich, and so are his odd-ball relatives and the residents of Woody’s hometown.

What would a burned-out, knuckleheaded, geezer like Woody do with such a fortune? “Buy a new truck” (which he can’t legally drive, but wants anyway) and “a compressor” (to replace the one he loaned to his former business partner decades ago), says Woody.

Ed Pegram, the former partner, is a man of thinly-masked guile, played masterfully by Stacy Keach. He, and Woody’s extended family, figure they are due at least a small slice each of Woody’s pie-in-the-sky, in return for money they claimed they loaned him years back.

Nebraska is a quirky film that could have been made—and possibly done better—by the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, who brought us Fargo. It’s filmed in black and white, and has a sort of cinéma vérité feel to it, 0r even film noir, although it is dryly comedic and the only “crime” is the way Woody is treated by some of the other characters.

Lincoln, Nebraska is essential to the story, as are the other locations. But Nebraska could have been set in rural towns and small cities anywhere in the middle or western U.S. In fact, the film reminded me of such places in northern Idaho where I spent summers on my grandmother’s farm. Even the derelict old house where Woody was born is a carbon copy of the abandoned farmhouse I crept around in where some relations of my grandmother’s third husband had once lived.

I can see why Nebraska received Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Director. But it had tough competition in all of those categories and failed to win a single gold statuette.

When the pace of Nebraska slows to a crawl mid-way through the film, and things get a bit boring, you may be tempted throw up your hands, turn on a network-TV sitcom, and forgo finding out if Woody ever reaches Lincoln and if his dreams become fulfilled there.

That would be a mistake on your part. A big mistake. The films trailer should convince you of that.

 

(Nebraska is available from Amazon.com. Purchases made through links on this page help Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel-related stories.)

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