Day 103: Nebraska


I decided this week to move Best Picture nominated movie night from Monday night to Sunday evening. I’ve struggled the last few weeks to finish work, watch the movie and get the blog posted before midnight! Last week, it was way past that before I got the blog up and even later when I crawled into bed. Sunday evening works better! And tonight, I finally made it back to the movie Nebraska, number five out of nine nominated movies.

Nebraska stars Bruce Dern, June Squibb, Will Forte, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach and was directed by Alexander Payne.  It was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Dern, Best Supporting Actress for Squibb, Best Director, Best Picture, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Screenplay. Bruce Dern won an Oscar for his portrayal of Woody Grant. The film is rated R and has a run time of 1 hour and 54 minutes.

With the threat of severe weather this afternoon, I hoped electricity would stay on and I’d be able to watch this movie that I first attempted to watch March 24. I was beginning to wonder if I wasn’t supposed to see this movie! I’m very glad I did. Shot in black and white and using a cast mostly made up of little known actors, this film is called a comedy drama road movie. I found Nebraska to be a poignant, touching look at family relationships in the Midwest.

Dern’s character, Woody Grant, is a tired, aging man who never has been known for saying much. He receives a sweepstakes letter in the mail stating he has won a million dollars. He just needs to show his winning number to claim his prize. Woody refuses to trust the postal system with a million dollars, and when no one in his family will drive him to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize, he sets off on foot. Several times. Kate, his sharp tongued wife of many years, berates him for foolishly believing he’s won a million dollars and threatens to have him put into a nursing home. Played by June Squibb, Kate is a woman seemingly at the end of her patience with her often confused, taciturn husband who finds solace in alcohol.

Woody’s son David, played by Will Forte, offers to drive his father to Nebraska. He doesn’t believe his father has won a prize either, but hopes to use the road trip as an opportunity to spend time with his father and ease his confusion. When a fall during the trip sidelines Woody for a couple of days, the pair spends the weekend in Hawthorne, Nebraska, Woody’s hometown. He still has brothers and old friends living in this tiny town. And David begins to learn who his father really is from local townspeople, friends and foes, and an old flame.

I expected this to be a sad film, especially with it being shot in black and white. The simplicity of that choice heightened the starkness of Woody’s life, the quiet pain in his eyes. The character actors and extras in the film came across as ordinary people right off the streets of Smalltown, USA. I could almost believe I was watching a home movie at times, of the Grant family. When Kate rants at her son about the craziness of his father’s belief that he’s won money, and asks why, David’s answer touches the heart of the movie. “He just needs something to live for.” It becomes apparent, in this movie, that that statement is true for each character. They’re all caught in one small story after another, searching for something, anything, to live for.

David comes to see his father differently. And that changes the way he feels about his dad. I found myself hoping, as the pair finally arrives in Lincoln, Nebraska, that Woody really did win that million dollars. He’s been ridiculed and subjected to greed from his immediate and extended family, and most of the tired residents of his hometown. And he’s revealed to his son the real reason he wants the million dollars: he wants to be able to replace an air compressor that was stolen from him years ago and he wants a new truck….something nice to leave to his two sons when he dies.

I won’t tell you whether he won or not. I will tell you, the love of a son for his father overcomes all the trials, all the heartaches of the trip. When Woody drives his new truck slowly, and with quiet dignity, down the main street of Hawthorne, for all the town folk to see, I smiled, through tears, along with David. Nebraska isn’t just a sad movie, it is a triumph. And it isn’t just about a road trip to claim a prize. It’s about going home, and going within, and finding something larger to believe in and live for. It’s about love within the family, even an atypical family. Because, what does a normal family look like anyway?