You’ve all gotten them in your email. Some lucky folk (yes, me) have even gotten them in real snail mail – that scam that starts off telling you that you have won a million dollars. Some of them are marketing scams, and more recent ones are often phishing schemes for bank details or identity theft. Either way, nobody wins the million.
Ever wonder if anyone falls for those scams, and what happens to them? This film answers that question, and it does it in a rustic and charming sort of way. Bruce Dern plays Woody Grant, an old alcoholic who receives one of these in the mail one day and literally starts walking to Nebraska from Montana. After his family fails to convince him that the letter is fake, his younger son, played by Will Forte, of SNL fame, decides to go with him in the hope of getting some father-son time, as well as being able to look out for his safety.
Dern plays the part of the old man who is starting to lose his marbles very well indeed, it’s not quite so comical as to make this film a farce, and it’s played with sufficient sensitivity that his character is not just entirely believable, but the audience is encouraged to sympathise with him, and root for him as the film goes on.
Owing to some minor mishaps along the way, the film turns from a road trip movie into a ‘coming home’ one when they decide to stop for a few days in Woody’s home town, which he hasn’t visited in quite some time. At this point, his wife and other son join him for the weekend, and various reunions happen with old friends, old lovers, and old foes. In a distant sense, this part of the film reminded me of Garden State in that it was an interesting look into the main characters in the movie through friends from their distant past.
Ultimately, things come to a head, and news gets out about Woody’s million dollar prize and, predictably, everyone wants a piece of it. There’s a particularly memorable scene in which his wife rebukes members of the extended family for their greed and leaves everyone speechless. It’s moments like those that string this film together, and sympathetic characters like Woody who keep us glued to the screen.
The overall pace of it is quite slow, but in a way it encourages the viewer to reflect on what they’re seeing. To consider the passage of time, and the prospect of ageing. To also look into the past and observe the present to see how past decisions have impacted the lives of people in the present. Shooting in black and white also adds a sort of timeless quality to the piece.
In the end, it’s about redemption, and how the characters redeem themselves is interesting. Curiously enough, I felt that the film could have used more character development, especially for the role of Woody’s wife, played by June Squib, who was also nominated for best supporting actress. I hope Dern wins the Oscar for best actor, but there’s some pretty stiff competition this time around. Even though I don’t think Nebraska will win best picture, I would still highly recommend it.