Film review: Nebraska ****
(12A, general release, 115 minutes)
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach. HHHhI
Practically all of Alexander Payne's movies (About Schmidt, Sideways, The Descendants) involve some sort of road trip, but none quite as elegantly poignant as the one taken in Nebraska.
When 70-something drunk Woody Grant (the outstanding Bruce Dern) is found wandering down the highway near Billings, Montana, the cops bring him home. Turns out he was on his way to Lincoln, Nebraska, some 700 miles away across the dreary northern Midwest, to pick up a cash prize of $1million he thinks he's won.
Though his optimism is based on a marketing scam leaflet he received in the post, old Woody won't be deterred, so his kindly younger son David (Will Forte) agrees to drive him.
Along the way David tries to bond with his monosyllabic father, and things get complicated when they stop off at the small town where Woody was raised.
Nebraska paints a vivid and fondly despairing picture of a part of America that's slowly dying. If it were possible to return to Frank Capra's Bedford Falls today, it would be boarded up and in the throes of existential desperation. In a key scene, David stops off at a local newspaper to find out more about his taciturn dad.
When that paper collapses, who will remember all the community's little stories? Certainly not the internet.
Alexander Payne's picture is beautifully photographed and elegiac, and feels like King Lear in a minor key.
Woody doesn't have a kingdom to leave his children, and he probably doesn't have a million dollars either.