Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Cornhusker State

Back in March of 2021, I recorded Nebraska when it had its TCM premiere as part of 31 Days of Oscar. If you have the Epix channels, you've got a couple of chances to see it this week, starting with tomorrow at 4:25 AM (or overnight tonight if you want to look at it that way) on Epix Hits. So I recently watched it to do a review on it here.

Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an elderly man living in Billings, MT with his long-suffering wife Kate (June Squibb). We learn later in the movie that Woody was a heavy drinker for much of his adult life, and now probably has either Alzheimer's or the sort of brain atrophy and dementia brought on by a lifetime of drinking. In any case, the result is that we first meet Woody walking along one of the main roads, where he's picked up by the police.

Having to deal with Woody's increasingly erratic behavior is not only Kate, but also their two adult children, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk). Ross is the more sensible man, who understands that it's probably time for Dad to go into some sort of home, while David still thinks he can deal with Dad's behavioral issues as they come up. And there's a big one that caused Dad to go walking on the highway. Dad received a letter from a Publishers Clearing House-type organization telling him that he's won a million dollars -- if his number comes up and he tells them what magazines he wants to subscribe to. But Woody only sees that he's won the million dollars, and wants to go to Lincoln, NE, to collect his winnings.

Woody is walking because he's no longer allowed to drive. And dammit, he's going to walk the 1200 or so miles to Lincoln if he has to, that's how much the million means to him. Eventually, David decides that he's going to take a couple of days out of his life to disabuse Dad of the notion that Dad is about to become a millionaire. When the two of them go off, Mom and Ross decide to follow; in their minds David never should have done this in the first place.

Thankfully for the family, Woody and Kate both grew up in Hawthorne, NE, which is right along the way to Lincoln. Mom has called ahead, and Woody's brother Ray and sister-in-law Martha are willing to put everybody up for a night. After all, it's been so long since the various sides of the family have met, Woody having left for Montana 40 years earlier, before the two kids were even born.

There's a reason the two branches of the family are estranged. Woody had all that drinking that caused a falling-out with business partner Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), while Ray and Martha's two kids are consistently in trouble with the law, dooming themselves to an even worse existence than David and Ross, who are at least trying to get ahead in the world.

In Hawthorne, David gets to learn about Dad's younger life, and what made Dad the father he'd eventually become. Dad lost a brother as an infant, went off to Korea, and had other loves before settling with Kate. But he also relied on his family for financial support at times, and now that they think he's set to win a million bucks, they want that money back, to the point of becoming increasingly grasping over it. Mom also shows the kids a thing or two about being the rock of the family. As much as she's exasperated with her husband's behavior, deep down inside she still loves him deeply, and she won't let the other side of his family badmouth him.

Nebraska is a fine example of the road picture, filled with excellent acting performances. Dern and Squibb both received Oscar nominations; while I haven't seen all the nominated performances from that year, both Dern and Squibb's performances are worthy of the nominations. The script also deftly balances drama with humor. Anybody who's had a parent with dementia will recognize the exasperation David feels at times, but will also understand that sometimes there's not much to do but stand back and laugh at the absurdity of it all.

If the script has a flaw, it's the same one I found when I watched Antonia's Line some time back: some of the characters are just too quirky, to the point of unrealism, with the quirkiness driving the plot a little too neatly. But that's a minor flaw, and one that's easy not to spot while watching the movie.

Nebraska is a movie that you should definitely see if you haven't already seen it.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I remember this film; saw it only once when it first came out, and remember liking the black/white cinematography. The supporting character I remember the most was the one played by Stacy Keach, and I remember he and Bruce Dern's character getting into a fight. I recollect that the Dern character did some reconciling with his past which made the trip worthwhile.