Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Alexander Payne's "The Descendants", which the bureau chief liked quite a bit, marked the first time that the director had merged his dark humor with some heart. He pulls that feat off again in "Nebraska." The two films offer some interesting contrasts of social class. The prize that concerns the King family in "The Descendants" is 25,000 acres of pristine family land in Kauai, the sale of which will make the family members very rich. The supposed "grand prize" of a million dollars in "Nebraska" is recognized by everyone who examines the document to be a magazine subscription come-on; everyone except for the aged and confused Woody Grant (Bruce Dern).

At the start of the film the old man is drunk and has set off to walk on the highway from Billings Montana to Lincoln Nebraska to get his grand prize. He's picked up by the police and his son David (Will Forte) gets him out of jail but when Woody sets off again, David decides he'll drive Woody to Lincoln. The film is the trip. It's a trip back in time since they stop in Woody's home town in Nebraska where a lot of Woody's family still live. An impromptu family reunion is organized. David's mother Kate (June Squibb) and his older brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) come down from Billings to join them. Woody blurts out that he has won a million dollars and the extended family refuses to believe the immediate family's statement that that this isn't true. Old debts are suddenly remembered or created.

It's a exercise in deadpan dark humor but also has some moving moments. Some of them are created by Phedon Papamichael's black-and-white cinematography which finds amazing beauty in the enormous depopulated prairie landscape. Alexander Payne comes by his take on Midwesterners honestly since he was raised in Lincoln. The film has a satisfying ending and I recommend it.

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