For Reel

Nebraska (2013)
February 8, 2014, 9:27 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Alexander Payne
5 Stars
NebraskaThere isn’t a sadder or sweeter movie this Oscar season than Nebraska–a disarmingly understated masterpiece by director Alexander Payne, who doesn’t always so elegantly drift between comedy and tragedy. Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant, a monosyllabic, drunken father who may be in the early stages of dementia. When his son, David (Will Forte), attempts to bond with him, he has little to give in return but a grunt or the occasional guilt trip. This central relationship–which eventually opens up to include his nasty wife Kate (June Squibb) and his other son Ross (Bob Odenkirk)–seems ripe for the expected moments of spoken affections and the healing of old wounds. Where Payne and writer Bob Nelson succeed is in keeping most of these revelations under the surface (and that is only if it can be argued that they’re even fully there). This is a story about missed opportunities and resentments, where David seems to be the only person whose intention has anything to do with making somebody else happy. The two-faced townsfolk of Hawthorne are just as eager to pressure Woody for his supposed lottery earnings as they are to congratulate him–his resurfacing in his hometown causes such a ruckus because the residents see him as their own ticket out of there. For a movie that deals both with violent envy and unspoken despair, however, Payne does find the occasional sweet moment under unexpected circumstances, such as a hilarious set piece involving an air compressor. A late shot of Woody’s old flame (played by Angela McEwan) is among the most haunting in recent years–a profound “what if?” that might offer some hope for the future if it wasn’t already too late.

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