Based on NaPoWriMo’s poetry prompt of money, I decided to review Oscar nominee Nebraska, a uniquely matter-of-fact film whose eccentricity derives from its ordinariness. Bruce Dern won acclaim and a Best Actor nomination for playing Woody Grant, whose self-delusion about a sweepstakes letter sends his family back home to Hawthorne, Nebraska, while he and son David are en route to “collect the prize.” I’m not familiar with Alexander Payne’s films, but I quite liked this one (and thought it should have been PG-13 rather than R). Filmed in black-and-white, Nebraska might seem dull in its true-to-life approach, but it derives unusual humor and drama, much of it verbal, from the down-to-earth performances. In some ways, the film is a testament to the American family of yesteryear, full of distant cousins and less-than-warm reunions. My VC was tickled by the silent assembly of relatives, watching TV with sparse, intermittent fragments of conversation among themselves, because she remembers old family reunions that were exactly so, sometimes even without the TV involved.
Also celebrated is the affable friendliness of small-town America. Hawthorne has a certain warmth to it, the kind that some will pity and some will envy. Woody’s supposed win electrifies the town, where a visiting former resident’s good fortune is apparently front page news. Unfortunately, it also attracts family and friends eager to cash in on old debts, such as old rival Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) and cousins Cole and Bart. (Did anyone notice that Cole is Devin Ratray, otherwise known as Buzz, Kevin’s older brother in Home Alone?!) Yet for every fortune-seeker, there are several genuine friends who merely congratulate Woody with no sense of entitlement to his winnings, offering the perfect balance to the greed of others.
Though Bruce Dern’s scraggly, no-nonsense portrayal of Woody earned the most critical praise and an Oscar nomination, it was so subdued and laconic that it failed to stand out for me. It was a very good performance, but not a great one worthy of an Oscar. Thus, I tend to consider his nomination a nod to his entire career, similar to the comparable performance of Richard Farnsworth in The Straight Story, which was also nominated for Best Actor. The surprise for me was Will Forte as David, shedding his SNL roots for a sincere, conflicted role that balanced comedy with drama (the compressor thief scene easily the funniest part). While David’s life is far from perfect, he proves to be a far more likable character than drunk Woody or his irritable and crude wife Kate (June Squibb), who reminded me of a harsher version of Grandma from The Waltons (compare her final line “You idiot!” with Ellen Corby’s “You old fool!”) While David is flustered by Woody’s brusqueness and misconceptions, he wishes to humor him for as long as they still have together, going to great lengths in the end to comfort his ailing father. Woody could hardly be considered a good father, but David proves himself as a good son.
Best line: (Bart, the speed demon) “We could get you to Lincoln in an hour.” (David) “Lincoln is over 200 miles.” (Bart) “Okay, hour-and-a-half.”Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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