Alexander Paynes’s Nebraska: A Film Review

When the state of Nebraska is mentioned in conversation (almost never actually, except for conversing about a woman I once met and befriended from Nebraska) the discourse is usually about corn fields and football.  One seldom associates the state with major events let alone a film.  In addition, many of us from the NYC metropolitan area may not know many people from Nebraska or may never have visited the state ever.  Currently, the state is on my list of places to see as I become closer to attaining my goal of visiting all 50 states.  After seeing Alexander Paynes’s  comedic – like Nebraska, shot in beautiful black and white with awesome cinematography, one may not be inclined to place it at a high priority for tourism except that some of the people portrayed were the most lovely people.  The movie stars Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, Will Forte as David Grant, June Squibb as Kate Grant, Woody’s wife, Bob Odenkirk as Ross Grant, and an unforgettable appearance by Stacy Keach as Ed Pegram.  Squibb has some classic comedic laughs that have the effect of producing guffaws. Forte and Odenkirk have some memorable scenes that makes one chuckle and smile.

The film is not so much a representation of the state of Nebraska as it is about the representation of the state to Woody Grant, played by Bruce Dern, who won best actor at the Canne Film Festival this year for his portrayal of Grant. The film centers around Woody Grant who believes that he has won a million dollars because he received a letter in the mail alluding to the idea that he may be a winner.  As a result of his mistaken belief, he sets out on a journey from Billings, Montana (A state with natural awesome wonders) with David, one of his sons (his son is aware of his dad’s demented belief) to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his winnings.  On the journey, Woody and David meet family and friends whom they have not seen in years.  In various ways, Woody and David try to reconnect with family and Woody himself meets old friends.  Through all of these encounters, Woody’s son gains a better understanding of his father.  As with most people who have won a prodigious amount of money, news travels through Woody’s hometown about his supposed winnings.  Old family and friends come to collect money that Grant has allegedly owed for many decades.  It’s with all of these former relationships that the feelings and thoughts about the mundane lives of these Nebraskans spring forth.

Throughout the film, there are many comedic lines in the midst of a couple of disheartening scenes.  These comedic scenes interspersed with great cinematography is illustrative of what Nebraska represents to Woody, his wife, and his two sons all of whom join him on his journey for either part of the way or for the entire adventure.  Old memories that once faded into the background are resurfaced.

The final scenes of the film make for a heartwarming dramatic denouement.  This is one of the best endings seen in recent memory. Just maybe reconnecting with an old Nebraskan friend or acquaintance may be a great antidote for whatever ails us.  Make this film a priority.  Do not be fooled by the title.

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