I’m going to be totally up front here and tell you that Nebraska is one of my favourite films of the year. Shot in grainy black and white this is essentially a road movie. The central story is that of an ailing, ageing drunken man named Woody (Bruce Dern) who believes he’s won $1m in a sweepstake mailing, and the son who escorts him on the journey to collect his prize. Along the way the stop off in Woody’s hometown where his good fortune earns him near celebrity status, despite David’s protests that there is no prize.
Bruce Dern gives an understated yet powerful performance as a man whose best days are behind him, one million dollars or not. He’s frail, forgetful and confused, his mind frequently wanders. His wife has very little patience with him, and he’s estranged from his sons. All he wants now is to collect his winnings and buy a new truck. He’s so determined he’ll walk the whole way if he has to.
This all sounds simple enough but as the story unfolds and we meet more characters, learning a bit more about Woody’s past as we go, it soon becomes clear that these (I don’t even want to call them characters, I want to call them people) people are complex and deep. We see the minutiae of family life as it happens – the annoying habits, the old grievances, the small talk and apparent pointlessness therein – it happens slowly, but it’s never, not for one minute, boring. These people are flawed, they sometimes say horrible things to each other and they get on each others nerves. They’re real even though the situation is far-fetched.
I’ll be very surprised if Nebraska doesn’t earn Bruce Dern an Oscar nomination, it’s just that kind of role in that kind of film. The supporting cast is also universally excellent, especially Will Forte as Woody’s son David and the potty-mouthed June Squibb as Woody’s hen-pecking wife.
Nebraska is sweet, charming, heart-warming, sad, slow, funny, clever, unassuming, uplifting, genuine and a rare treat.