IMDb, the film reference site, tells me that if I liked this I’ll like Inside Llewyn Davis, to which I say, ‘give me a break!’ Alexander Payne’s sad but funny, quiet but emotionally rowdy movie Nebraska is streets ahead – and it’s also fortified by kindness, a trait in which the Coen brothers can hardly ever be accused of over-indulging.
Bruce Dern, who has aged like a fine wine, is Woody Grant, a wiry-haired, forgetful piss-artist who, upon receiving a scam ‘you have won’ leaflet actually believes that he has a million bucks coming his way.
He sets out on foot to make the journey from Montana to Nebraska to collect his money. He will not be dissuaded, so his son David (Will Forte) takes time off his deadbeat job in an electrical goods shop to drive him to his destination.
After a minor accident that sees Woody hospitalised, his feisty wife Kate (June Squibb) and older brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) complete the entourage as the Grants, stopping over in their hometown, are exposed to the stark reality of their family history and the opportunism of one-time friends and distant relatives who all demand a slice of the windfall.
When you see a lot of flicks, you can’t help arriving at the conclusion that most humour these days is try-hard, foolishly contrived or over-reliant on vulgarity for a laugh – sometimes all three at once – but the episode in which the brothers steal a compressor had me chortling uncontrollably in recognition of the blokes’ all too common silliness and ineptitude.
Other scenes tend occasionally to drift into Coen-esque untruthfulness in observation – the roomful of flannel-shirted hayseeds sitting silently like Easter Island idols watching the gridiron is kitsch and cruel.
Shot in a rustic B&W that highlights the vast, dry landscape from which his characters have evolved, and tempered by a recurring melody of the sweetest melancholy, Payne’s teasing out of the minutiae that determine the flow of our lives is a tonic for anybody seeking reconciliation with the foggy past.
~ John Campbell