Now I understand the Oscar-friendliness of Nebraska (2013), a quiet, quirky little father-son comedy drama. Mild-mannered Montana retail clerk David (Will Forte) has a distant relationship with his crusty, alcoholic father Woody (Bruce Dern) – who is growing increasingly senile and difficult to control. When Woody falls for a sweepstakes scam, he sets out for Lincoln, Nebraska – on foot – to collect his “winnings.” David can’t talk any sense into him, and eventually decides to drive Woody to Lincoln himself, if only to prove the letter is a hoax. What ensues is a Midwestern road trip that takes them through Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska, where David uncovers interesting details about his father’s past – and for the first time, kind of connects with him.
It’s a soft-spoken, amusing, and sad little tale, anchored by a surprisingly subdued performance by Forte in a rare straight-man role. Dern is quite touching as Woody, while June Squibb provides a spirited turn as his feisty wife. The slow pace, quiet humor, elderly cast, and gorgeous black-and-white cinematography do an effective job evoking the lonely backroads of white, rural Middle American stoicism. It’s a portrait simultaneously loving and a little insulting, unfortunately; like many Hollywood takes on the Midwest, it tends to talk down to the “flyover states.” That said, director Alexander Payne is evidently a native, and he does tap into something authentic. A sudued but touching film, for the most part.