I want to write just these two words and leave the rest of the review blank but then you’d probably think I’ve lost it or the website has lost it. When I saw Nebraska, I could only think of the character of Kate Grant played by a criminally under-used actor June Squibb. I literally lost it for June Squibb. I’m going to write these two words again, in case you don’t get what I’m aiming at already.
I vaguely remember her from About Schmidt (2002) and don’t remember her from the bit roles in Alice (1990), Scent of a Woman (1992), The Age of Innocence (1993) or Far From Heaven (2002). How can an actress of such incredible warmth and stupendous screen presence go unnoticed for this long? She creates this character that becomes a cinematic gem. Each line of dialogue she spoke made me laugh out loud. Alexander Payne’s films are funny but their humor isn’t exactly belly laughs-kind. The way his words are spoken by Mrs. Squibb they become pure comic delight.
All right, all right. I need to write about the film and not keep going on about one person.
Alexander Payne is American cinema royalty. Usually, America is associated with Hollywood films. Big-budgets, slam-bam action, good-looking stars and what not. There are very few films which are American. About American people. Warts and all. Payne makes films about the Americana. If you look at his filmography you will see the kind of stories he told are all about people and nothing else. They are also mostly road trips but not the conventional kind.
The film opens with one of the most brilliant opening scenes of all time. Woody Grant is walking by the highway and a policeman stops him. “Where are you coming from?” he asks. Woody points in the direction behind him. The cop further questions “and where are you going?”. Woody now points straight ahead. The reason why I think this is one of the best opening scenes of all time is because Payne loves to capture life in small things. This tiny scene encapsulates all of life in just one scene and sets up a film and its character in the most beautiful way possible. I wish the film ended in a similar manner and didn’t resort to a sentimental climax.
Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant. He’s been overlooked and underappreciated for most of his illustrious career. I first noticed him in Hitchcock’s final film – Family Plot (1976) and loved him in Coming Home (1978), The Driver (1978) and Silent Running (1972). Nebraska is his best performance yet. It is a poignant and extremely subtle performance. Dementia is easy to overplay but Dern does not dominate the film but silently affirms his hold over the heart of the film. I missed out on one of his most brilliant contributions to film and that would be Laura Dern.
Woody wants to travel to Lincoln to claim his million-dollar sweepstakes reward. His son repeatedly tells him this is a scam but Woody refuses to budge.
They stop over at the fictional town of Hawthorne, Nebraska where most of the action takes place. The two sons of the Grant family are played by Will Forte (SNL and 30 Rock) and Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad). There is one sequence containing a certain compressor, where the entire theater was in splits, including me. I just kept thinking about how many Academy members’ compressors I will have to steal when they deny June Squibb an Oscar.
I saw Nebraska at the BFI London. The screen had an old-world charm to it. They played the trailer of Jack Clayton’s brilliant horror classic The Innocents (1961) before the screening. Those two hours I felt I was in another era. I wasn’t sure why Payne used black and white photography for the film but then it doesn't have be some genuis reason. Sometimes, it’s just that - Nostalgia.view less