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Nebraska

Nebraska

What She said:

She

Getting old sucks.  We all know this.  That’s why we eventually go through the “mid life crisis.”  But what we often forget about is that caring for old people kind of sucks too.  I’m not meaning to be insensitive, because we love our parents and grandparents and will continue to do so for their entire lives, regardless of what challenges their aging presents.  And that is why it kind of sucks.  If you have a strong relationship with your family, you will have a difficult time putting an elderly family member in a home, or caring for them as they become more dependent and less like their “old selves.”  It’s heartbreaking to face the overwhelming and lifechanging issues that come with aging—concerns like chronic disease, transportation, and proper self-care.  Anyway, all of these ramblings are meant to introduce the movie Nebraska, which is essentially about a guy’s relationship with his aging parents.

David Grant (Will Forte) is a middle-aged man whose life is exceedingly dull.  His girlfriend of two  years recently dumped him, he works as a stereo salesman at an electronics store, and his parents are becoming more and more difficult to manage.  I say parents, but the crux of this story is really about David and his father, Woody (Bruce Dern).  That said, David’s mother Kate (June Squibb) is no peach.  She’s foul mouthed, acusitory, and entitled.  But David’s number one concern is really his dad, whose failing mental capacity has him acting erradically.

Nebraska

Woody wants to go to Lincoln, Nebraska…bad.  You see, he received one of those fake prize notifications in the mail, and despite everyone telling him that it’s a scam, he wants to go down to the marketing company that sent it to claim his $1 million cash award.  And he’s got big plans for the money.  Okay, they’re not so big.  All he wants to do is buy a new truck and an air compressor.  After repeated attempts to stop his father from traveling to Nebraska (on foot mind you), David finally gives in and decides the best way to address the issue is to embrace the road trip down there and show Woody once and for all that the money is a sham.  I think David is also thinking of the experience as one last hoorah with his father before he considers a skilled care facility for him.  Woody has become foggier and irrational, and he’s physically breaking down after spending years and years as an alcoholic.  So, the movie chronicles David and Woody’s trip, which includes a stop in Woody’s hometown and interactions with former friends and extended family. 

David and Woody’s relationship is fickle.  One second they’re getting along ok; the next they’re in the midst of a great miscommunication.  You feel for David, as you can sense how easy it is for him to get frustrated with his father.  But you also have to remember that his dad is not entirely there mentally, and that’s apparent upon several occasions.  The story, while riddled with moments of humor is somewhat heartbreaking.  The laughs are more chuckles of temporary amusement, as you watch something ridiculous on screen, but there’s an ominous tone to the film that quickly brings you back to its more somber side.

The movie is shot in black and white, which contributes to its quiet sadness.  The landscapes are quite beautiful, even if they are completely void of color.  But there’s a dullness that also pervades on screen.  This is both visual and in the storyline.  I know, the themes here are quite deep, but I felt that the film stalled a little toward the midway point and that it was just too long overall.  It would have been more effective as a solid 90 minute feature instead of its current hour and 55 minute runtime.  There were scenes that I felt were stretched out for an inappropriate length, just for the sake of keeping simplicity and making a point.  Kind of like a joke that hangs in the air too long.

I think the strongest part of this film were the performances of Bruce Dern and June Squibb.  They seemed genuine and pained.  Will Forte was ok, but I thought he was much more artificial.  I did like the concepts at play in this film, and the fact that it had a very dark side.  But I felt that dark side may have dampened things a little too much.  I was surprised and delighted by the ending of this movie.  I thought the point made was a very good one.  But it didn’t do much to uplift my spirit, which was deflated from the rest of what I saw.

Overall, this film is ok, and seems meaningful to experience.   But it’s also kind of depressing when you think of its many darker themes, and that may not sit well with everyone.

Thumbs half up.

Nebraska

What he said:

He

I haven’t seen many of this year’s Best Picture nominees. Truthfully, not many of them interest me. This movie really didn’t either, but there was nothing else on Amazon we wanted to watch, and of the nominees that I didn’t’ want to see, this was last on the list. Some of the other nominees I really didn’t want to see at all, but I was willing to give this one a chance.  

Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a man on a mission. He has won a million dollars – or so he thinks – and he intends on collecting. He got one of those things in the mail that says he won, but is really nothing more than a scam to get people to buy magazine subscriptions or other crap they don’t need.  He doesn’t understand that though (he’s an elderly man) and he will stop at nothing until he claims his “winnings”.  Woody doesn’t drive anymore, but does not let that stop him. He is one determind guy. So what does he do? He decides to walk…to Nebraska. Did I mention he lives in Montana? As you can imagine, an elderly man walking along a main highway is a problem for his family. 

The police pick him up, but he tries this several more times, which annoys his wife Kate (June Squibb) greatly. She and one of their sons, Ross, want to put him in a nursing home. Their other son David (Will Forte) does not. David takes it upon himself to actually take his father to Nebraska to “collect the money”. He knows it’s a scam, he tells his father it’s a scam, but he thinks the best way to get him to understand that is to take him there and show him. He also thinks that, while the way Woody is going about it is dangerous, he thinks it is good he’s keeping his mind busy. He’s never seen his father so determined to see something through. Kate berates David for encouraging Woody’s delusions (and also continues to berate Woody for believing in said delusions).

So, the two of them embark on an old fashioned road trip to Lincoln, Nebraska. On the way, they stop in Woody’s hometown for rest. They stay with one of Woody’s brothers (Rance Howard) and his family. These people are an interesting bunch. Like Woody, his brother Ray doesn’t say much. The two of them often stare at the TV, occasionally asking each other something, and answering in one or two word sentences. It might not sound like it, but it’s actually pretty damn funny. Some people are not conversationalists and Woody and ray are definitely those kinds of people. Ray’s kids are a couple of knuckleheads. They are the kind of guys who sit on their asses all day and criticize others, but in reality don’t do a damn thing with their lives. Making fun of their cousin David seems to be one of their favorite ways to pass time. This is also quite amusing, because seeing these two, who have amounted to absolutely nothing in their lives, is the epitome of irony.

Nebraska

Woody also stops in a few local watering holes during this leg of the trip. Woody is one of those people who seems to enjoy the environment of a bar more than the rest of his life. I got the vibe he hadn’t drank much in recent years, but the second he gets around it he just wants to be in the bar. He’s not sloppy or violent, he just likes being in a bar and shooting the shit with the boys. While at one of the bars he informs his old buddies he won a million dollars. One of those buddies is former frienemy Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach). Before long, the news gets out and Woody is the talk of the town.

They eventually move on to the offices of where Woody expects to collect the money, but a healthy chunk of the movie is spent in Woody’s hometown. Here Woody must deal with all the attention that goes along with big news in a small town. The paper wants to interview him, Ed Pegram – amongst other people – want money from him, and he is just generally getting a lot of attention. It’s not often somebody wins a million dollars, let alone in a town like this.

I knew practically nothing about this movie going into it. Only a couple of days prior to seeing it did I find out what it was about (as the Oscars approached). Then I heard it had some humor in it and I was a little more interested in it. I wasn’t in the mood for anything too serious or deep.

That’s not to say this movie doesn’t have drama, because it does. Woody is obviously suffering from some kind of dementia and if you’ve ever known anyone who has had it, you know it can be tough to deal with. Coping with somebody who is losing their mental faculties can be both sad and stressful.

The movie is not a total downer or even much of a downer at all. As I mentioned above, it’s got a lot of humor in it.
It’s definitely a bonafide comedy-drama. The movie has a nice mix of both. It’s funny,  thoughtful, and even a little uplifting. The way David chooses to handles his father’s health might not be the most ideal, but he does it because he cares. He thinks going along with what Woody wants – as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody – is better than confining him to a room and leaving him to live in regret about not collecting his prize money. He thinks it will help him to see he didn’t win rather than explain to him he didn’t; which he doesn’t understand anyway. His approach to handling his father leads to some funny and introspective moments.

Bruce Dern got a lot of attention leading up to awards season and I can see why. I know who Bruce Dern is, I’m pretty sure I’ve even seen some of his movies, but if you asked me to name some of his more memorable roles off the top of my head, I couldn’t. He’s not exactly a household name and when he started to get recognition for the role, he said he was happy simply being nominated. I know this is the role I’ll likely remember him for.

I’ve never seen Will Forte in anything that wasn’t a comedy. This was easily the most serious role I’ve ever seen him in. I was impressed. He portrayed the average Joe with average Joe problems surpsisingly well.

June Squibb was a riot. Her character was an absolutely pain in the ass and I probably wouldn’t find being around somebody like that funny in real life, but watching her on screen was entertaining.

Bob Odenkirk (Saul from Breaking Bad) was also solid as their other son Russ. I think this is one of many roles you are going to see him in post Breaking Bad. He’s got talent.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was given the He said, She said seal of approval on March 8, 2014.

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