Anyone who’s seen Will Forte’s work knows that he’s best known for doing comedy. He’s been on Saturday Night Live and starred alongside comedy gurus like Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller. So it might be surprising that Forte appears in Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, but Forte actually does a pretty good job with the drama in the film. It also helps that the film isn’t too depressing and has a lot of lighthearted moments.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) believes he’s won a million dollars. It’s one of those sweepstakes we all have gotten in the mail at some point or other and thrown away because they’re scams. Well, according to Woody’s family, he tends to believe everything that people tell him, and so everyday he takes his winning paper and starts walking to Nebraska from Billings, Montana in an attempt to get his money.
David (Will Forte), Woody’s son, finally humors his dad and packs their bags so that they can make the two-day trip to Nebraska in order for Woody to get what he wants and stop driving people crazy trying to walk there.
On the way to their destination, the two stop for the weekend at David’s uncle’s house in Hawthorne. While there, David begins to learn things about his dad that he never knew before from the mouths of family and people in the town who knew Woody when he grew up there.
In one word, Nebraska is a pretty good movie. Alexander Payne puts a lot of effort into it to make it look as natural as possible, so much so that it’s shot in black and white, and it works effortlessly. The scenery, acting, and story all blend together really well and create an atmosphere of realistic sadness and humor rolled into one. It’s real life and Payne paints that really well.
Comedic actors usually flow into drama pretty well given the right material, and Will Forte does it well enough. His character is kind of the crutch that holds up his father and supports him as they trek through this adventure together. Whereas Bruce Dern is the lost, constantly zoned out and slightly confused father. Dern is unkempt and hell bent on getting to Nebraska for reasons other than what you might think.
Stacy Keach plays a real asshole as Woody’s old buddy who basically sold him out way back when and now wants money once he realizes that Woody will become a millionaire. He’s obnoxious and the epitome of a greedy and unfair friend that it really hits home when he makes fun of Woody and Woody takes it quietly. It’s a telling trait that distinguishes each of their characters.
While the entire cast is really good, it’s June Squibb as David’s mother Kate Grant, who really shines and steals the show. The woman is a fire cracker and really gets the laughs rolling. She has so much gumption and attitude that she just steals every scene she’s in. The movie is much more vibrant with her in it.
The film has a lot of themes that keep cropping up and finally come to a head at the end. Themes about family, being taken advantage of when it comes to money, and finding out what’s really important to people in life. Alexander Payne brings us a heartwarming and wonderfully told story about a father/son adventure that is layered with much more than it seems. Natural storytelling and atmosphere, Nebraska is Alexander Payne at his best.