The latest effort by director Alexander Payne (The Descendants, Sideways) earned itself no fewer than six Oscars nominations. But Nebraska does not have the drama, flash or historical significance of the other nominees. It’s not about gimmicks or high stakes; it portrays life the way the majority of us experience it – often mundane, sometimes difficult and frequently uncomfortable. Through sharp observations and honest character exploration, this mundanity becomes utterly poignant and completely entertaining.
Woody (Bruce Dern) is the aging patriarch of the Grant family who, after receiving a winning sweepstakes letter from the next state over – Nebraska – is determined to claim his million-dollar winnings any way he can. While his tenacious wife (June Squibb) and eldest son (Bob Odenkirk) are convinced Woody is losing it, his youngest son David (Will Forte) indulges the fantasy, agreeing to drive his hopeful father to collect (or otherwise) his winnings. Fate leads them back to the small hometown of the family’s youth and as word of Woody’s wealth spreads, everyone in town tries to claim their share.
All the major players here are utterly suburb. Dern’s Best Actor win at this year’s Cannes festival and Oscar nomination for Best Actor is entirely warranted given his precise and measured turn as the loveable yet frustrating Woody. Squibb, also nominated for an Oscar, provides much of the film’s comic relief with her dry wit and home truths. Forte, of Saturday Night Live fame, is seamless as the gentle, protective younger son and Odenkirk continues to prove his acting chops beyond his celebrated role in Breaking Bad.
Add to this striking yet understated cinematography and Nebraska proves to be the quiet stand-out in this year’s Oscar race and a film not to be missed.
Nebraska is in cinemas now.