LFF: ‘Nebraska’

It’s a cruel game those marketers play, fooling us into believing we have won millions and all we need to do is simply send back a form to retrieve our life changing winnings. But when the unwitting victim is an slightly frazzled old man, struggling to hold on to purpose and drive in life, the effects of such tricks have more of an effect than just a wasted stamp. In Alexander Payne’s touching road movie, Nebraska, a son decides to placate his addled father and deliver his coupon to retrieve his million dollars.

David Grant (Will Forte) is a amiable stereo salesman, in the midst of an unexpected break up and under pressure by his mother and brother to reign in his wayward father, Woody, the inimitable Bruce Dern. Against the family’s wishes, and mainly to stop Woody wandering along the roadsides by himself, the two make the 700-mile journey from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize.

Known for his unique ability to blend comedy, family drama and social commentary, Payne’s wonderfully dysfunctional family is a treat to watch from June Squibb’s vulgar and unashamed elderly vixen Kate to David’s hick cousins and Woody’s hilarious brood of brothers. With each character so expertly created, we can see the family traits run deep, from appearance to mannerisms, even though at first glance we see more of the hate than the love. The Grants are a stubbornly loving bunch, really.

Along the journey, the two revisit Woody’s old hometown, meeting old friends, family and even lovers allowing David the rare opportunity to get to know the father who has always been so emotionally estranged – an estrangement that led him mainly to the local tavern.

Shot in beautiful black and white by Phedon Papamichael, Nebraska is a postcard delight of the Midwest, slow paced and calming as the two men turn back the pages of Woody’s past and in the process, write new chapters together. It’s undoubtedly a bittersweet journey, with comedy tinged with sadness as the realisation dawns that this is likely to be Woody’s last adventure, albeit one under the false pretence of being a ‘winner’. But without slipping into the sentimentality Nebraska manages to avoid, it’s Woody’s heart that has made him a winner but has also got him in such trouble over the years. Bruce Dern is a revelation, bringing physicality and roguish charm to this wonderful character, a performance that earned him Best Actor at Cannes.

So much more than just a road movie, Payne takes the road less travelled in this witty, affectionate tale of a father and son off to claim their millions.

Nebraska is screening on Tuesday 15 October at Cineworld Haymarket.

The 57th BFI London Film Festival, in partnership with American Express, takes place until 20 October 2013. View the programme online: www.bfi.org.uk/lff

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