Two years ago Alexander Payne brought the London Film Festival his Oscar-winning film The Descendants. The film about family, told through the story of a father on a road trip with his offspring, was sweet, funny, and authentic. Nebraska is not dissimilar as it stars Will Forte and Bruce Dern as father and son (Woody and David respectively) who travel 700 miles to see if Woody has won $1 million in a sweepstakes. His family sees it as an obvious scam but David decides to indulge his father as he teeters on the edge of dementia.
Along their way Woody and David stop off at Woody’s childhood town and encounter greedy relatives, old friends with grudges, and a small town mentality that never forgets. Much like its predecessor Nebraska is sweet, funny and authentic; it has moments that made the audience laugh out loud alongside scenes that can easily jerk a tear without resorting to patronising those watching. Despite being set in small town America the film is instantly relatable; who hasn’t been to a family gathering and had to watch as two people try to force conversation between a disinterested group by bringing up mundane anecdotes like a foot that hurts or asking how long it took to drive a certain journey? The humour is deeply ingrained in character, is truly funny (and often quite dark) and never resorts to cheap slapstick or a pop culture reference. This is a film I’ll love just the same in fifty years time.
Payne has chosen to shoot Nebraska in black and white and in doing so has lent the film a timeless quality and allowed the performances to take the foreground as settings and other distractions melt into the background. Nebraska is a beautiful film, both visually and otherwise, and filled with numerous naturalistic performances. Dern is a fantastic weary old man and Forte dials his usual annoying performance down to a level that allows you to forget the funny faces that are his Saturday Night Live legacy. June Squibb easily steals the show as the feisty mother and wife convinced that everyone in the past wanted the get in her knickers.
I hate reviewing films like Nebraska, they’re so good I find it hard to know what to say. I think the following three words I wrote down early on in the screening sum it up perfectly: “Sweet, funny. Perfect?”
ETA: Five stars seems a lot, especially considering the film didn’t blow my mind or push any boundaries, but I can’t see any flaws in it either. That’s subjectivity for you.
Nebraska screens at the festival on the 11th, 12th and 15th October and is in UK cinemas on 6th December 2013.