Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Family drama has understated Midwest beauty

  • Print

At times, Alexander Payne's Nebraska is a seriously funny movie. But its recent Golden Globe best picture nomination in the comedy/musical category is -- predictably for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association -- wrong.

Primarily, this is an affecting drama with a smidge of the classic road movie, delineating a long-delayed understanding between a father and son that has been left in abeyance dangerously long.

The father is Woodrow (Woody) Grant (Bruce Dern), a prickly patriarch whose years of alcoholism and emotional neglect have forced a wedge between him and his two grown sons.

It may be too late for his eldest, Ross (Bob Odenkirk), a guy on the fast track to anchorman stardom -- such as it is -- in Billings, Mont. Ross has lost all patience with his withholding dad.

But Woody's younger son, David (Will Forte in a lovely, understated performance from the guy who gave us MacGruber), remains unwilling to write his father off, even as his mother Kate (June Squibb) grows more tartly contemptuous of Woody's wandering ways.

Specifically, Woody is hell bent on walking from Billings to Lincoln, Neb., after receiving a magazine subscription mailer that says: "We are now authorized to pay one million dollars to Mr. Woodrow T. Grant." No matter who tells him it's just another advertising come-on, Woody stubbornly holds onto the belief that his ship has finally come in.

David, smarting after a separation from his live-in girlfriend, relents and agrees to take Woody to Lincoln, with a stop at Woody's rural home town in Hawthorne, Neb., for a visit with his extended family.

Hawthorne is a dumpy, depressed little town. But it is here, David gains some serious insights into both his father... and his mother too. (Get a drink or two in Kate and the round little grey-haired grandma opens up with some remembrances that mortify David: "That's Ed Pegram singing. Did you know that he was always trying to get in my bloomers?") David also finds himself menaced when a few townies, led by Woody's former business partner Ed (Stacy Keach), are eager to stake some dubious claims to Woody's new fortune.

There is no significant criminal enterprise going on here, save for a plot by a couple of David's idiotic cousins to get a piece of Woody's non-existent winnings. Yet it feels like a cousin to the geographically tagged Coen brothers movie Fargo, if only for its droll yet probing look at the emotions and resentments that roil beneath the veneer of Midwestern stoicism. (A shot of a family reunion in which every member of the family is transfixed by a televised football game is hilarious, yes, but also deadly accurate.)

In this regard, Bruce Dern does some of his career-best work as the unsentimental Woody, whether expressing the drinking man's feelings about beer ("Beer ain't drinking") or bluntly answering David's question about whether Woody ever loved his wife: "Never came up."

The script by Bob Nelson is a work of wit, sensitivity and economy. Payne directs with an attitude that is affectionate yet unsentimental. And it's all photographed in gorgeous black and white by Pheden Papamichael.

To put it as simply as the material demands: Nebraska is one of the year's best.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2013 D3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Jim Flaherty remembered at visitation as irreplaceable

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Horses enjoy a beautiful September morning east of Neepawa, Manitoba  - Standup Photo– Sept 04, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A female Mallard duck leads a group of duckings on a morning swim through the reflections in the Assiniboine River at The Forks Monday.     (WAYNE GLOWACKI/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Winnipeg Free Press  June 18 2012

View More Gallery Photos


What are you most looking forward to this Easter weekend?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google