Nebraska (2013) Film Review from the 57th Annual BFI London Film Festival (LFF), a movie directed by Alexander Payne, starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk, Mary Louise Wilson, Missy Doty, Angela McEwan, Rance Howard and Devin Ratray.
Alexander Payne is not a director that can satisfy all types of audience tastes. He has a specific, slow, friendly style. Once you get used to it, it can bring you a great deal of pleasure. Nebraska is Alexander Payne at his most typical and effective. The story revolves around a very simple subject matter, which is family. There are no lives in danger, or great sequences of dramatic events taking place. This is a family drama-comedy that is overly simple but at the same time very affectionate. The film works through its incessant humour, the superb acting, particularly that of Bruce Dern and the simplicity of the style of Alexander Payne. Through that simplicity the humour stands out, the performances shine, the story and its well-intentioned meanings reach out to you.
From the opening scene of the film I felt that Nebraska is a friend of mine. I understood it completely. It made me laugh. It is totally open and hides nothing because in a story that ordinary there is nothing to hide really. We just follow the characters on this slow, funny journey. In real life this journey would be quite a bore but in front of the big screen and through Payne’s vision it is elevated to pure entertainment. The humour was very special. It was extraordinarily simple and this is why it got me so quickly. I was catching up with the jokes in microseconds and since every scene is filled with jokes, I had fun almost the entire time. Every little character is memorable with a funny moment, with its own particular set of problems and desires. Some characters are memorable for their jokes. Some other characters are memorable for their weaknesses. Eventually, all the characters are imperfect in many ways but every single one made me love the film more.
Alexander Payne concentrated the film around his characters very cleverly and in various different ways. With a plot like this it is the characters and the dialogue that can elevate the material. In almost every shot there was at least two characters involved. The magic of Nebraska is most notably felt when these people start to have effect on each other. There were scenes in which not a single word was spoken but I started laughing anyway because I understood the relationship between the characters on-screen. Bruce Dern’s acting was quite the accomplishment and his performance reasonably excelled over the rest of the great acting in the film. Bruce Dern’s character’s jokes were the funniest and his moments are the most affectionate. Every time his face was on-screen, the film felt twice as refreshing. This is a film about the search for entertainment in life. The character Woody Grant (Dern) said it: ‘What else you got going on?’ In a boring, stale lifestyle, one old man wants to move, to act, to follow a purpose even if the final goal is just as worthless as the journey itself. It is the journey that matters for both the character and the viewer. I didn’t care about the million dollar prize; I cared about all the fun that I went through during the journey to Nebraska.
Nebraska is a very quiet and free of pressure family drama, boasted with great performances, fuelled with modest laughs. Personally, I thought that its 110 minutes of running time was a bit too much. Since I am one of those viewers that like it when the story escalates with powerful dramatic events, Nebraska wasn’t my type of film. It wasn’t repetitive in its content but it certainly was repetitive in its style all the way through. There are simple situations and humour, both of which worked well, with nothing more serious happening. For many viewers, this will be a good, even great film. It was not something remarkable for me because the simplicity of it bored me. This is solely my opinion and I remember that the highly acclaimed The Descendants (2011) wasn’t exactly to my liking too. I certainly understand, however, why Nebraska can be considered Alexander Payne’s newest grand success: it is beautifully simple and effective filmmaking.