By on January 3, 2014

The latest from critically-acclaimed director Alexander Payne, best-known for such films as the award winning “The Descendents” and “Sideways,” “Nebraska” is already garnering Oscar buzz for performances from lead Bruce Dern and June Squibb as a husband and wife at constant odds with one another.
The film chronicles Woody Grant (Dern), convinced that he’s won a million dollar sweepstakes and determined to get to Nebraska in order to  claim it.
Of course, his immediate family is convinced it’s all a scam, but Woody isn’t taking “no” for an answer.
His son David (Will Forte, “SNL”) agrees to drive his father, more out of a desire to visit relatives rather than claim the prize.
This is sort of a mix betwee road movie and character study, and even if you’re a fan of Payne’s previous efforts, it may not be your cup of tea.
It seems with each film, Payne is growing more and more minimalist in his approach, making this film feel something more akin to that of art-house auteur Jim Jarmusch (“Stranger than Paradise,” “Dead Man”) than the man behind the likes of “Election” and “Citizen Ruth.”
That’s not to say that it’s a bad film, simply that if you’re expecting fireworks and Oscar bait showboating, this is not the film you’re expecting- or wanting to see.
It’s much more subtle than that, but in a good way.
While the presence of “The Descendents” Oscar-winning tag team of writers Nate Faxon & Jim Rash is sorely missed, relative newcomer Bob Nelson does a rather nice job.
Like Faxon and Rash, he’s an actor-turned-scriptwriter, best known for “The Eyes of Nye” and “Almost Live!” and though his humor is much more subtle and refined than theirs, “Nebraska” is not without its light-hearted moments.
Though some might suspect the lion’s share of laughs to go to the likes of Forte and “Breaking Bad” supporting actor and fellow comedian Bob Odenkirk, it’s actually Squibb (Kate Grant) that’s the scene stealer here, brightening the screen every time she’s on it.
A former regular on “The Ghost Whisperer,” Grant is one of those late-in-life actors that the Academy loves to reward, so don’t be surprised if she doesn’t garner an Oscar nod from ybreak-out role for the actress.
Both Woody Grant and his co-star Kate nail their roles to the point that you forget you’re watching actors and lose yourself in the story of a couple that’s been together a little too long for their own good.
I was also pleasantly surprised by Forte’s disciplined and subtle acting here.
You wouldn’t think the guy behind such over-the-top “SNL” character favorites as “MacGruber” and “The Falconer” would be able to tone it down so much, but Forte rises to the occasion.
He masterfully lets Dern and Squibb do the heavy lifting and takes his moments when they matter most (perhaps most memorably in the scene where he confronts an ornery Nebraska local looking to take a slice of Dern’s supposed winnings).
It’s an admittedly methodically-paced film, with long stretches of black and whtie film where little action occurs
So, if B&W movies or character studies aren’t your thing, this might not do it for you.
As for me, though the film did drag a bit in parts, there was more than enough worthwhile acting, dialogue, and humor to make the film worth seeing.
While it may be much more low-key than Payne’s usual, already laid-back style, it’s still a beautiful effort that earns a solid B+.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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