Director Alexander Payne (Sideways and The Descendants) is known for his dramedies and in Nebraska he pursues this genre even further. Payne chooses veteran Bruce Dern to take on the lead role for the film. He plays Woody Grant, a father who is convinced he has won a million-dollar magazine sweepstakes in Omaha, Neb. The only problem is that Woody lives in Montana and is not allowed to drive. At the beginning of the film he tries walking to Nebraska, but his family members repeatedly come to rescue him. Dern, 77, is a knockout in the lead chair for this film; he plays the character with such instability and heartbreak. Dern received his second Oscar nomination because of his grand performance in this film.
Even though Woody’s past is blurred with drinking and hard times, his wife, Kate (June Squibb), calls him a damn fool for chasing this fantasy. Squibb is hilarious every time she is on screen. She does not put up with people’s garbage and always throws in her 2 cents. Squibb was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress – in a Supporting Role. His youngest son, David (Will Forte), knows the sweepstake is a scam and tries to tell his dad that, but Woody will not have it. David shows compassion for his dad and decides to drive him to Nebraska. This is where our adventure begins with a father and son road trip to Nebraska. Their relationship starts out slim but deepens by the end of the film. This trip gives David an opportunity to get closer with his father by asking him questions about his childhood, seeing his old house where he grew up and even having a beer with his old man.
Payne executes this brilliantly and sends a heartwarming and poetic message to viewers about family. One unique aspect to Nebraska was that it is shot completely in black and white. In my opinion, if this movie were in color, the film’s value as a whole would have been lost. Another noteworthy performance is by a comedic Bob Odenkirk, who plays the oldest son, Ross. Payne has already shown his greatness with a list of remarkable films (Election, About Schmidt, Sideway and The Descendants) and now has added another great film to his canon. Throughout this film we journey with Woody all the way to Omaha seeing his highs and lows as a parent.
Even though Woody has had a difficult past with his drinking, here we see a more optimistic Woody who is determined to get his million dollars in Nebraska and make a better name for himself, and more importantly, his family. Nebraska was nominated for six Oscars, but sadly the film did not win even one. That should not discourage the viewer, though, as Nebraska is still an excellent film. Through all of this black-and-white film, Nebraska still shines brightly with its poetic and heartwarming message.