FlixChatter Review: NEBRASKA (2013)

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An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

Part of the appeal of this film for me was Alexander Payne as director. Like his previous film The Descendants, it focuses on the idiosyncrasies of a certain family, but instead of the tropical paradise that is Hawaii, this time it’s set smack dab in the heartland of America. I’ve only passed through both Montana and Nebraska on a Midwestern road trip years ago, and neither is a popular state used for filming Hollywood movies. The fact that Payne chooses to film it in black and white also adds to the small-town charm.

It’s a road-trip of sort that starts off with the father Woody Grant and his youngest son David, from Montana to Nebraska. The story is pretty simple, perhaps deceivingly so, as it actually packs quite a bit in terms of character development and emotional involvement.Woody has become a cantankerous old man, disillusioned with his life and his marriage. This supposed million-dollar winning somehow sparks something in him and he choose to ignore all the warning signs and obvious red flags that it’s all just a fantasy. David on the other hand, feels that this road trip just might give them a chance to re-connect and also gives him a bit of a break from his tedious and monotone life as a stereo system salesman. Along the way, the Grants encounter certain family and friends they haven’t seen in a while and find out just how money could change everything, even when it’s merely imaginary!

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I’ve never seen Bruce Dern before but he’s absolutely perfect in the role of Woody. With his messy hair, deadpan expression and prickly demeanor, he carries off the role with a great deal of charm and humor. There is something so endearing about his disheveled look and mannerism. This is also the first time I saw former SNL actor Will Forte in a serious role, and I’ve got to admit he sold me as David and he has an effortless chemistry with Dern. I read an interview that Dern was quite taken by Forte and wished he were his own son, and that rapport really showed. Bob Odenkirk and June Squibb did a fine job as Woody’s eldest son and wife Kate, respectively. Squibb was quite the scene stealer with her irreverent comments, especially the one at the grave site of Woody’s parents. At the same time, I’m glad her rather outrageous character isn’t on screen very much as it may overpower the story, and not in a good way. Stacey Keach also had a particularly memorable supporting role as one of Woody’s old pals.

I never knew the son of a bitch even wanted to be a millionaire! He should have thought about that years ago and worked for it!– Kate Grant

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Right off the bat I felt somewhat of an odd kinship with both of them despite their flaws. Though the pace is deliberately unhurried, it doesn’t feel sluggish nor slow because I was totally invested in these characters. Thanks to the sharp script by Bob Nelson, it’s also funnier than I had imagined. The scene where Woody lost his teeth had me in stitches and the goofy scene at the barn is absolutely hysterical, perhaps the highlight of the movie for me. Yet there are genuine heart-wrenching moments as well, the moment where David met a woman from his father’s past is particularly memorable as it offers us a different side of Woody.

The ending ties up the father/son’s relationship with a touch of pathos and drollness. I think everyone who’s had experience with their own family eccentricity (and who hasn’t?) would appreciate this movie. Plus the black and white cinematography by Phedon Papamichael (who also worked on The Descendants) adds to the film’s charm whilst showing the Midwest landscape in a different light. It’s definitely an amusing and moving ride, one I don’t mind revisiting again when it’s out on dvd. Despite the lack of major movie star in this one, I actually like this one a tad more than Payne’s previous film.

four and a half stars out of five
4.5 out of 5 reels


Have you seen Nebraska? I’d love to hear what you think!

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48 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: NEBRASKA (2013)

  1. YES, YES, and YES. I really loved this movie. You nailed many of the things that stood out to me. It’s honest and smart but it’s also laugh-out-loud funny at times. I really responded to it. Good stuff Ruth!

    • High five, Keith! It’s great when a movie surprised you in this way. I really didn’t think I’d love it as much as I did, but the writing is really good and it’s also hilarious!

        • Yeah, lots of thigh-slapping-ly hilarious moments! I hear ya about Kate’s crazy comments though (what u said in ur review), but fortunately it wasn’t too much to overpower the film.

  2. I can’t wait to see this! I recently volunteered at The Little Theatre (which is a small indie cinema house) here in Rochester, New York and so many patrons, on their way out, were just singing the praises of this film.

    Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the film that night but I will see it very soon! Great review! I am very stoked to catch up with this one. The film sounds like it will hit all the right notes with me. Thanks!

    • Hello Victor! Yeah, a lot of people at the film fest when I saw this loved this too. I think you’d appreciate this one, it’s certainly an honest and hilarious look at Midwestern small town America.

  3. I agree, on many levels. This is a very good film, in no small part courtesy of Payne’s direction and standout performances. Not to mention compelling characters.

    I also agree the mom. She is so over the top that she almost becomes a flaw, until that final scene in the hospital when we see how much she still loves her flawed husband.

    Excellent review, Ruth!

    • Hi James! Yeah, I think the script and performances are top notch. It could’ve easily been a very boring movie but thankfully Payne’s a skilled director that it wasn’t the case. I’m glad that he still manage to restrain the outrageous-ness from becoming too silly.

  4. I’m not the biggest fan of Alexander Payne, in fact I don’t remember the last film I saw that he directed, might have been Sideways which I thought was way way overrated.

    I might give this one a rent since I like both Bruce Dern and Will Forte.

    • I still haven’t seen Sideways yet, aargh!

      Oh, if you like Dern and Forte, you must see this one. I know it’s normally not your cup of tea Ted but you might be surprised by this one. I know I was.

  5. Good review Ruth. Though it is not his best, Payne still shows us that he excels in these types of slow, subdued and down-trodden stories of everyday people that are just like you and me. Okay, sort of like you and me.

    • I love it when a director took just a simple story w/ practically nothing going on and made something special w/ it. Glad you like this one too, Dan!

    • Ahah, nothing to be shameful about Mark. There are plenty of movies I haven’t seen yet either. This one is a gem though, hope you enjoy it when you do see it!

  6. I have thoroughly enjoyed Payne’s last four movies prior to this one with Sideways becoming one of my absolute favorites. Can’t wait to check this out when it arrives in the UK. Be sure to check out more Bruce Dern… He’s done some terrific work.

    • Hi Dan! Yeah a friend of mine just said that I should check out more of Dern’s work. I should do that later this year. I think you’ll like this if you’re a fan of Payne’s work.

  7. I love this film. It’s hilarious but also very touching. I think Alexander Payne is the true American filmmaker that is needed more. Films about real people and who are a bit quirky. Bruce Dern is amazing in this and I suggest watching him in Coming Home by Hal Ashby as he’s just great in that film. June Squibb was great as she brought a lot of laughs from the audience I saw it with. The stuff that touched me involved the family where as dysfunctional as they are. They still stick by each other. Even the ending which I think is one of the best endings I’ve seen as I was very moved by it.

    • Hi Steven! Yeah, it’s nice to see a nice balance of hilarity but genuinely moving moments. I haven’t seen a lot of Payne’s work, i.e. Sideways, so I should look into that. Same w/ Bruce Dern so thanks for the recommendations.

      You’re right about the fact that they stick together despite their issues, and the ending is just superb. I like the ending of The Descendants too, but this one is even more uplifting and also hilarious!

  8. This sounds like a really good movie, it’s on quite a few top ten lists. I’ve never seen Bruce Dern in anything either but the name’s familiar. The quote from the wife Kate sounds hilarious! I’ll have to add this to my watch list.

    • It really is a good one, it’ll make my Top 10 as well. Bruce Dern apparently was famous in the 70s and 80s, that’s why he sounded familiar to me too though I haven’t seen him in anything before this.

  9. Nebraska’s a quiet little film I keep hearing great things about… I just don’t know.. Alexander Payne tested me to the max with The Descendants, so I have no desire to rush back to him. Your review made me a bit more curious though… But I’m still waiting for the DVD.

    • Hmmm, not a fan of The Descendants? I quite enjoyed that one though I had no to little expectations about it. Seeing this on dvd is just fine, I wouldn’t overlook it though.

    • The Descendants is perhaps more *mainstream* than this one and it’s got the star power w/ Clooney, but this one has so much heart and hilarity that it won me over.

  10. Great review Ruth! I always find films like these done in black and white intriguing because you don’t see that every day, and I didn’t grow up watching films in black and white, so it’s definitely a nice movie-watching experience. Nebraska is one of those films I’m still very much looking forward to seeing, so thank you for the great review :)

    • Hey there Raul! You’re right the B&W cinematography made it seem fresh somehow, but the writing and performances really good here. I definitely give this a rent when you get a chance.

  11. Good review, Ruth. Without having seen it, I wonder if the lack of a major film star actually plays to its favor: it might make the small-town feel of the picture feel more authentic.

    • Hi Morgan, that’s an astute observation! Yes I think you’re right that the lack of star actually works for its benefit in lending authenticity.

  12. Wow! Another movie with a high rating! I bet you have problems making your top 10 movies of 2013 right? I was just OK with The Descendants last year…. but still am interested in seeing this one.

    • Hi Asrap! Yeah that’s why I haven’t posted my Top 10 yet, ahah, but there’ll be a lot of one-word titles on my list I think ;)

      Give this one a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised!

  13. Nice! Very nice, Ruth. I’m a big fan of Payne’s movies and this looks fantastic. Great to hear that the wonderful Bruce Dern has finally been given a role worthy of his talents too.

    • Hi Mark, sorry for some reason I missed your comment. If you like Payne’s work, you’ll enjoy this one. Amen about Bruce Dern though I feel bad I haven’t seen any of his earlier work.

      • No worries Ruth. That happens to me too sometimes and I always feel bad about it. It’s understandable though.

        Still haven’t seen this flick but really looking forward to it. You should check out Bruce Dern in the Jon Voight, Jane Fonda Vietnam based Drama “Coming Home”. He’s absolutely superb and I’m sure he was nominated for that too.

    • Hi Eric! Glad you saw this and loved it too. I’m curious if Forte will pursue more serious roles in the future as he could certainly do it!

  14. Pingback: Nebraska | The Soul of the Plot

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