Release Date: November 22nd, 2013 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Alexander Payne Actors: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
razzled, grizzled senior Woodrow T. Grant (Bruce Dern) of Billings, Montana is adamant about walking to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect a $1,000,000 sweepstakes prize. It’s a gimmicky marketing promotion that isn’t worth the sheet of wrinkled paper it’s printed on, but that doesn’t stop Woody from falling for the false advertising. His obstinate wife Kate (June Squibb) claims she’d put him in a nursing home if she had the prize money, equally insistent that the old man’s obsession not be buoyed by their son’s encouragement. David Grant (Will Forte) knows there’s no cash, but wishes to let his father have his little fantasy for a few days more, as it clearly gives him something to live for.
When Woody refuses to give up on his mission to reach Nebraska, David calls in sick to his electronics store job and plans a road trip. As the journey starts, Woody’s alcoholism leads to a brief hospitalization that extends their vacation through the weekend. They stop in Hawthorne to stay with Aunt Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) and Uncle Ray (Rance Howard), where a small reunion of nearby relatives is planned. During their visit, Woody can’t help but reveal his newly acquired millionaire status to all sorts of acquaintances, igniting rumors amongst the townsfolk, resulting in plenty of small talk, delusions of grandeur, and “buzzards” from the past coming forward to demand a cut of the winnings.
As if to mirror Woodrow’s meager, deteriorating situation, his son lives in a tiny, shabby apartment full of dying plants, with nothing to do in his free time and a chubby ex-girlfriend (Missy Doty) who desires some epiphanic development or sincere commitment to their two-year relationship. Somber music chimes in with melancholy notes to further augment the moroseness of the characters and premise. Stark black-and-white cinematography is also employed, perhaps to highlight the uncomplicated motives of simple people, or to give corresponding colorlessness to the visual bleakness of poverty, old age, and the seemingly inescapable, meandering spiral of small town contentment that sparks evanescent ambition.
Director Alexander Payne culls humor from the despondency, easily extracting the jocose authenticity of waning years through mental declension, stubbornness, and frank conversing. It’s certainly funnier from an outside perspective; those who can relate to caring for the elderly might not be as amused. A drink in a bar evolves into a bonding session for father and son that is primarily saddening – the pondering of failed relationships, disinterest in love and raising children, and a general lack of compassion proves to be sorrowful stuff. Solid jokes do come along, but the pacing is slow and the spotlight placed on the pitifulness of the supporting roles is occasionally enraging.
While examining the lengths some will go to bestow happiness on others, and the revelation of waiting until the last minute to achieve a worthwhile legacy or bequest, quirky old people spout off-color comments and speak candidly about sex for a few laughs, with the younger characters matching witlessness through physical idiocies. Dern delivers a fine performance (a considerable distance away from ruthlessly killing John Wayne) and Forte and Bob Odenkirk (as the less encouraging son Ross) excellently provide personas on the opposite end of their standard comic relief parts. But it takes too long to get to the point, presenting a purpose that is as plodding as Woody’s gait.
– Mike Massie