Alexander Payne’s new film “Nebraska,” a melancholy road movie shot in black and white with some hilarious moments, is a worthy contender for a Grand Prix or a Jury prize. And yet, to say that I was less than enthusiastic going to the 8:30 screening of this film is an understatement: I wasn’t a fan of “The Descendants” and a black and white movie, well, it’s a risky proposition for any film.
Woody is an old alcoholic who thinks he’s just won a million bucks just because he received a marketing letter in the mail telling him so–on the condition that he subscribe to a couple of magazines. Even though he’s clearly not a believer, Woody’s son David decides to play along and drives his father to Nebraska so he can claim his winnings. The two men go on a journey during which they will come across old friends and family members, long lost, all, but who are suddenly very interested in Woody because of their greed and envy.
During this morning’s talk with journalists Payne commented that, “I got the screenplay nine years ago. It’s a story that’s both funny and sad, a bit like life itself.”
Each encounter between father and son during the trip yields moments that are at times cruel, funny and touching. Payne is ruthless in revealing the foibles of human beings, their jealousy, greed, bad faith.
With this new film he brushes the most sublime portrait of a man in the twilight of his life.
Bruce Dern plays the taciturn old man who takes refuge in silence to spare himself from having to get involved in a life which bores him. Facing him in the role of the son who rediscovers his father, Will Forte imparts great resignation and emotion onto his character. Around them, Stacy Keach makes the acting an odious working stiff (one of Woody’s old business partners) seem like easy-peasy (by the way, keep your eyes peeled for a brief but notable karaoke performance by Keach), and June Squibb is hilarious as the loudmouthed and sharp-tongued mother.
Payne further revealed that, “the writer had really lived what happens in the story, so he’s describing his personal experience,” adding, “it’s a story from the Depression era, which is why I wanted to make it in black and white.”
Bryan Cranston auditioned for the role of Woody but Payne didn’t feel that he was right for the part. Matthew Modine, Paul Rudd, and Casey Affleck were also considered for the role of David.