Film review: Nebraska (15, 115 min)

Buy a ticket for this lottery gem

Thursday, 5th December 2013, 10:19 am
Nebraksa: Bruce Dern as Woddy Grant, Stacy Keach as Ed Pegram and Will Forte as David Grant
Nebraksa: Bruce Dern as Woddy Grant, Stacy Keach as Ed Pegram and Will Forte as David Grant

It could be you.

You could win seven-figure lottery jackpots, priceless trinkets and more money than you know what to do with, if you believe the deluge of spam emails that bombard our inboxes or the junk mail that clutters our doormats.

The key word here, of course, is ‘could’.

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Companies pray on greed and the unfulfilled dreams of people struggling to survive and it’s only when you delve head-first into the small print that you realise your chances of claiming that glittering first prize are just as remote as if you’d paid your money and plucked seven numbers out of the ether.

Nebraska is a bittersweet road movie about a curmudgeon, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who takes one of those bogus prize notifications to heart and embarks on a cross-country odyssey to collect the million dollars he believes is waiting for him in the titular state.

The old man’s despairing son David (Will Forte) and his long-suffering wife Kate (June Squibb) try, to no avail, to make Woody see the light.

But the ageing father has a letter in his hand that clearly states he is due a massive payout and he intends to get from Montana to Nebraska, walking every arduous step of the way if he has to.

Fearful of the repercussions for his father’s health, David agrees to indulge Woody’s fantasy and he accompanies the patriarch on his journey to the offices of the lottery company.

En route, they stop off at the home of Aunt Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) and her husband Uncle Ray (Rance Howard), who are delighted to learn of a windfall in the family. So too are numb-skull cousins Bart (Tim Driscoll) and Cole (Devin Ratray), and Woody’s one-time friend Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), who claims to be owed money from many years ago. The louder David protests that Woody hasn’t won a dime, the more convinced friends and neighbours become that the old coot is holding out on them. Tensions build and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and mother join the madcap expedition, swatting away the free-loaders, who feel they are entitled to share in Woody’s miracle.

Shot in crisp black and white, Nebraska is another delightful character study from director Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants). Bob Nelson’s script deftly sketches the sinewy bonds between the dysfunctional members of the Grant clan and the minutiae of unremarkable lives is a rich source of humour.

Dern delivers one of the finest performances of his illustrious career and is a frontrunner for next years Oscars, tugging heartstrings as his forgetful family man clings onto the dream of collecting his winnings, even if he has to die trying. Squibb is hysterical in support and Forte is a loveable straight man caught in the middle of madness that movingly brings the generations closer together.

Comedy/Drama. Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk, Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray. Director: Alexander Payne.