NEBRASKA initially gave me a bit of that wrinkle-shoulders-warning-feel I get when I see critics line up in near-unanimity to declare a small-scale comedy-drama “compelling” or (begin to shudder) “essential”—I’m thinking the dreaded Juno—so I approached with a bit of hesitation. Hearing “daringly shot in black & white” and “the great Bruce Dern” didn’t grease the brakes on the pickup a whole lot either.
Well, teach me to pre-scoff, because this a keenly observed, funny, trenchant look at forgotten America (Corn Belt meets Rust Belt strain—Wind Belt?) and Dern at long last gets something approaching a normal human to play. Not likable, mind you: can Bruce Dern even be likable? He’s very good here; cranky without any fakey sympathy-guilt-trip, dry as an empty silo, consistent and spot-on, though the plaudits he received—and the Best Actor Oscar nomination—took away luster from the likewise impressive, but less showy Will Forte.
A life-fatigued son takes on the ‘family duty’ (with not much help from the rest of the ‘relation’) of escorting his irascible (see ‘pain-in-the-ass’) elderly father on a road trip to claim a prize the old man is convinced he’s won.
Director Alexander Payne deftly guides the 2013 sleeper through writer Bob Nelson’s 115 mostly worthy minutes (maybe ten too many), with a canny assist from cinematographer Phedon Papamichael, whose lensing recalls Robert Surtees beautiful work on The Last Picture Show.
Aside from Dern, the Picture itself, its direction, script, and camerawork were Oscar nominated as well as an element I had more trouble buying, a Best Supporting Actress nomination for the diminutive 83-year old June Squibb. I just didn’t think her cantankerousness, let alone some laugh-pandering crudity, rang truthful. But, hey, everyone else with a keyboard thought she was the most delightful thing since myrtleberry jam, so why carp?
Perhaps also a tad overdone, but less grating and more acceptable to me as ‘types’ were the oaf cousins played by Devin Ratray and Tim Driscoll, and the loud-mouthed Tavern Big Shot acted to a razor-edge by the always welcome Stacy Keach. With Bob Odenkirk.