Nebraska – Review

Nebraska poster

Like two of Alexander Payne’s previous films, Sideways and The Descendants, Nebraska involves a journey of self discovery through travel. It’s more like Sideways than The Descendants, in that like Sideways, Nebraska centers around two men taking the most American of journeys, a long car drive.

In Nebraska, a son drives his father from Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska so that the father can collect on lottery winnings. It’s set up early on that the son, David, does not think the father actually won anything. But David uses the excuse of taking this trip with his dad Woody to have a father-son bonding experience that never happened in their relationship previously.


I feel like Nebraska has one of, if not the most honest looks at alcoholism out of any movie I’ve seen in recent years. Bruce Dern’s character, Woody Grant, is almost like a Ghost of Christmas Future for younger people with drinking problems.  Woody is a letdown as a husband and father. Decades of drinking have taken a toll on his personal relationships, his body and his mind.

Will Forte plays David very well. It’s cool to see Forte, who I love as a comedic actor (MacGruber!), take on a serious role. If David has inherited anything from his father, it’s his alcoholism. Unlike his father though, David has put drinking behind him before the start of the movie.

Nebraska is a bleak movie, as bleak as the black and white dusty landscape that encompasses most of the movie. Old age isn’t shown as a desirable goal in this movie. With the exception of Peg at the town paper and the nice elderly couple that the funniest scene in the movie centers around (and that I won’t spoil here), the old folks in Nebraska are living very dull, often sad lives. The scene of everyone sitting around the TV, not looking at each other, even when talking to each other, reminded me a little too much about some older family visits I’ve had.  I’m sure you’ve had them too.

old people watching tv

A large section of the movie takes place in Woody’s childhood hometown, a tiny town where everyone knows everyone’s business. It’s almost like a kind of purgatory that Woody has to endure in order to make it his promised land of Lincoln, Nebraska. Stacey Keach is excellent as the town’s heavy. I really like Stacey Keach. The man plays both good guys and bad guys effortlessly. When he plays a bad guy, as he does here, it’s always with a mix of charm and venom. I feel like Keach is a very underrated actor. His character in Nebraska, Ed Pegram, is like the town’s Satan. He’s the friendly face using you to his own ends. Wait, does Satan hang out in purgatory? I’m mixing my biblical comparisons.

nebraska dern and keach

If you have a mother like David’s, I do not envy you. Any time Kate (June Squibb) voiced her disdain for something, which seems to be every time she opened her mouth, I almost excused Woody’s constant drinking. Her nagging and his drinking are a like a chicken and the egg problem. I don’t know which came first, but they definitely perpetuate each other. Kate definitely cares for her family; she jut has the worst ability at showing it.

nebraska june squibb

If you go to the movies for escapism, Nebraska might not be the movie for you. Then again, Payne does mix in humor with the seriousness. David and his brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) attempt a payback mission for their father that goes hilariously wrong and might be my favorite scene out of any movie I’ve seen in the past 12 months. And the bleakness of the movie is matched by an ending that will make you leave the theater smiling.

I’m glad Nebraska was nominated for an Oscar. I think its nomination is helping put people in the seats, which is a good thing, as this is very good movie. However, I’d probably watch Payne’s Sideways again before I watched Nebraska a second time.