“Nebraska” embarks on an arduous journey that moviegoers will find unflinchingly honest, yet depressing, on the subject of growing old. Oscar-nominated director Alexander Payne (‘Sideways’, ‘The Descendants’) once again throws one of life’s most challenging periods on the big-screen to show us how little prepared we are for the adversity. This black & white film presents the confusion, forgetfulness, loss of hearing and mobility common to many seniors and unabashedly illustrates a family’s frustrations with those imperfections. The result is a shallow look at what life looks like in our golden years when there’s nothing left to look forward to.
Nominated for six Academy Awards (including ‘Best Motion Picture of the Year’), “Nebraska” stars Bruce Dern as old-timer Woody Grant; who sincerely believes that he’s won a million dollars in a mailing promotion that he received at his home in Billings, Montana. With family members unable to convince Woody that his winnings are merely a promotional tool to sell magazine subscriptions, the family must deal with Woody’s persistence to visit Lincoln, Nebraska, to claim his fortune.
The plot is interesting enough, but the film lacks any practical investment in Woody. Dern is phenomenal and provides a performance deserving of his Oscar nomination for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Role’. However, the constant inability of Woody to hear a conversation, or follow along in a scene, and provide emotion of any kind, leaves viewers wishing for more from his character. The movie’s pedestrian speed at times between Montana and Nebraska combines with a bitter, nasty family dynamics--neither of which provide us with much hope for Woody during his remaining years.
Only one member of Woody’s family really steps up for the senior citizen, seeking to give him closure and contentment. We see a very resentful and vengeful wife (Oscar-nominated June Squibb, for ‘Best Supporting Actress’), while another son remains unwilling to give much time and effort to his father. Exceptional acting and a novel idea for a story can’t overcome the shallowness, hate and greed dealt from a script that offers little to those late in life and unable to drive--or even to defend themselves. Instead of showing us a family coming together to help Woody realize his potential dream we find a cast of mostly negative, uncompassionate and hurtful beings; except for one. Thankfully, this son defends his father and assists him in finding his dream before it’s too late.