People are quick to spit out old-people adjectives. Stubborn. Demanding. Irrational. In Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) wears those descriptives proudly and even defiantly. His senior traits ignite, generating mayhem among those who love him and those who don’t.
The catalyst fueling what ensues is a sweepstakes letter, informing Woody, who lives in Montana, that’s he’s won a million dollars. With no intention of leaving anything to chance, he insists on claiming his money in person, in Lincoln, Nebraska. A man who speaks plainly and expects no less from anyone else, Woody rejects his family’s protests that the piece of mail he clings to – almost with reverence, as though it were a passport to personal validation – is bogus.
It will surprise no one that Woody, with his physical and mental shuffle and a penchant for alcohol, takes his misguided notions to the road, as his sympathetic yet exasperated son David (Will Forte) takes the wheel. So starts the pilgrimage. After the duo reach Nebraska, they make a weekend pit stop at Hawthorne, the town where Woody grew up, to wait out the contest office’s reopening on Monday.
Hawthorne is still flush with oddball folks from his past, most notably Ed (Stacy Keach), eager for monetary payback linked to having helped out Woody during some tough times. Woody’s jaw-droppingly shrewish wife Kate (June Squibb) and older son (Bob Odenkirk) also join up with the townspeople who’ve bought into his million-dollar-windfall story.
Shot in robust black and white, Nebraska looks as definitive in its monochromatic splendor as Woody’s own literal mindedness. In his head, rules mean something which, in turn, means a pile of cash is waiting for him, just as the letter states. However, that black-and-white, Saturnine sensibility is soon eclipsed by another archetype. Neptune oversees seduction and impracticality which, in Woody’s case, has given way to a heartbreaking gullibility.
Payne’s Nebraska is a wake-up call. There comes a time, as physical and mental frailty take center stage in older people’s lives, when vulnerability and facing the stark truth of things must somehow be acknowledged. You’ll desperately want to know whether Woody manages to rise to the occasion.
Astrology Film Rating: ♆ (Neptune)