BY CLAIRE WARD-BEVERIDGE
As I sat down to write about Nebraska last night, I turned up the computer screen’s brightness to jolt myself out of a sleepy haze. Indeed it was later in the evening, but I couldn’t help but notice that how I was feeling seemed like a fitting state in which to write about this film. A fogginess that I often noticed surrounding my late grandmother seemed to permeate every aspect of this review–when I went and saw it in the theatres I had thrown my back out and I, kid you not, a man twice my age had to hand me my umbrella and coat when we were leaving the cinema.
The plot of Nebraska is fairly straightforward and quiet: Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, a taciturn alcoholic teetering on the edge of senility and Will Forte plays his fretful son David. Woody gets some sort of mail-scam claiming he’s won a million dollars and decides to walk to Nebraska to get it, roping his son in with him.
I don’t normally associate director Alexander Payne with clear aesthetic choices and styles. What is often significant is that his films rest so heavily on the awkwardness of moving towards, away from or alongside intimacy between family members, lovers and friends, often in a very satirical and painfully humourous way. So it seemed rather odd that his latest would have such a clear marker of a visual style. I’m not entirely convinced that the film needed to be in black and white. Shooting in black and white nowadays unfortunately has to be very carefully justified and I still don’t quite understand the choice. Maybe because he hasn’t done it before? Or it’s just a new trend lately? Nebraska the state doesn’t tend to have Ansel Adams-worthy landscapes nor does the look really suit the tone of the film, which sort of hovers around themes such as alcoholism and familial strains but never really goes deeper than anything else Payne has ever done.
Not to say that the film is completely without any value as a piece of entertainment. Bruce Dern delivers a certain amount of charm even if he’s basically slipping into or coming out of a nap the whole time, his lines delivered almost somnambulistically. At times I actually thought he might suddenly have croaked in the middle of a scene. Will Forte’s slightly wounded wholesomeness fits perfectly in the Midwestern scenery and the tiny details revealed in the moments between dialogue: shots of old siblings squished into a living room together watching a baseball game, the main characters going in and out of dimly lit bars and restaurants.
Predictably the critics are spraying their proverbial shorts. I personally found June Squibb, who plays Woody’s long suffering wife, fairly overrated in terms of the awards season accolades–she conveys a brand of cheek that could easily place her on an episode of Corner Gas. But as mildly disappointing as I found certain aspects of this film to be, I still just hope it beats out fucking Gravity in every conceivable Oscar category.
Claire Ward-Beveridge is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in North Parkdale, Toronto and her rattled brain. She loves Werner Herzog and depressing English dramas. Follow her @clairewarb.