by Brad Nelson 3/14/14
Bruce Dern plays an old-fart grandpa whose hard drinking and chronically nagging wife have left him a bit in a self-imposed fog. But things are looking up. He may have just won a million dollars.
Will Forte (the co-star of this film) plays Dern’s son who gets roped into taking his father to Lincoln, Nebraska, where the father can supposedly collect the million dollars he has won in a Publisher’s Clearing House type of contest. His son is dubious about the prospects of him actually being a winner. But who knows?
Dern’s life is all but over. His friends, his old stomping grounds, and the joy of his life are gone or far removed…plus he never got back the old air compressor he lent to a friend a couple decades ago. Dern is, for all intents and purposes, having his last willful fling. And he will walk to Nebraska to pick up his million-dollar prize if need be, and attempts to do so more than once.
Dern’s sons treat him like an invalid, almost as if he is less than a person. Dern is not particularly cranky or abusive. But he is old and run down and a bit of a burden. But Will Forte takes pity on his father and sees that he really needs to make this journey to Lincoln, Nebraska, and they set off from Montana.
Along the way you meet real-life middle-American people as they stop in on a few relatives along the way. These roles were played by actual walk-on non-actors — such was the subtle realism — or else this was some of the best acting you’ll ever seen from professionals in various bit parts. You’ll recognize a few of your own relatives in them, providing you have roots other than in the big city. And most do.
This is not a particularly stirring movie. Nor is there a big emotional payoff at the end, although the end is okay enough (matching the low-key nature of the entire film). But it is steady and well-acted. My major criticism would be whether Dern’s character is of a much lower wattage than he needs to be. In no way at all does Dern over-act and play the stereotypical cranky old man. In fact, you can envision a movie such as this gaining 100 watts of energy if, say, John Malkovich had been in the starring role and done just that.
And you’ll love (hate, perhaps) Dern’s wife, played by June Squibb. God save men from the Kate Grants of the world. But she is every bit realistic which is exactly what makes every moment of her on the screen cringe-worthy. You’d be walking to Nebraska too.
Is this film for you? Well, it’s along the lines of Little Miss Sunshine which features a quirky family traveling together. But this film is nowhere near as funny. There aren’t that many laughs at all, in fact. And what laughs there are do not quite rise to the laugh-out-loud kind.
Filmed in black and white, there is a measure of bleakness to this film that requires it being endured as much as it is enjoyed. But for those with a very low ADHD factor, you may enjoy it at least mildly. One thing you can say for it is that it is a quality film that will not insult your intelligence. And for me, that goes a long way.