Ever day life, especially that in a small town, doesn’t seem all that interesting. People go through their routines for years and years before finishing up their lives around the same state that they started in. Some may see this as unambitious but it can also be looked at as a different walk of life. Some aren’t made to be traveling the world or making large impacts, they have the ability to impact those around them, if they choose to. Alexander Payne’s latest, Nebraska, examines small town life under a very beautiful, artistic microscope that not only hails its beauty but also shows how every day life isn’t all that it seems.
Nebraska follows Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) who has received a letter telling him that he is the winner of $1 million but has to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to get it. The film begins with Woody walking along the side of the road, making his way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln. He is picked up by a police officer which begins the struggle between Woody and his family. His wife, Kate (June Squibb), is fed up with his attitude and wants the charade to end. His oldest son, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), feels about the same as his mother and is first seen barking at his father about his actions. The only compassion that he receives is from his younger son, David (Will Forte), who is the one who gives in and agrees to take him to Lincoln.
The majority of the film takes place in Hawthorne, Nebraska, where Woody and Kate grew up. After an accident, Woody and David go to Hawthorne to spend the weekend with Woody’s family before setting off for Lincoln on the following Monday. This is where that small town attitude really sets in. These people don’t seem like actors but actual people in the Midwest who Payne decided to film for a few weeks. From the cousins who only talk about cars and driving distances, to the small talk between brothers who have not seen each other for a long time, and finally the small, desolate streets that make up the town; it all screams small town flavor.
That is what is to love about this film. Payne paints a picture of this lifestyle, and while some may find that he is mocking them, I completely disagree. This is how people are, especially in a town like Hawthorne, and the way he captured that is incredible.
The black and white aesthetic adds to the appeal of the film as it continues the feeling of a picturesque place that they are visiting. I think it was said best in an article in The Dissolve that defined it best. “Nebraska is in no small part about finding the beauty and transcendence in the ugly and banal.” This describes the film so well because of the way that Woody acts. Dern pulls of the performance so well because of the truly unlikable personality he creates but has those glamors of kindness that come out eventually that make you care about him.
But it is really Squibb and Forte who steal the show. Squibb enters as this foul talking, pestering wife who won’t let Woody do anything he wants but as people begin to find out about the money and show their true intentions, you find out why she is best for him. Forte blew me away mainly because of my image of him from “Saturday Night Live.” He showed some amazing acting chops and fit into this role perfectly. His hesitance and shy demeanor worked perfectly as David.
It always is nice when a movie dives into the “real world” and lets you escape into what is familiar. I think this is where Nebraska worked best when it allowed you to be sucked into this every day life that the film was depicting and not realize it. The best moments were the shots of the men all sitting on the couch, engrossed in the TV, and every so often speaking up with some small conversation. It captured real life so well which is the beauty of film, being able to find majesty in something you see and do every day.