Nebraska Screen 27 articles

Nebraska

2013

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  • What rankles is the abyssal and abysmal disconnect between the filmmaker's apparent understanding of his subject and how he executes that vision onscreen. It mostly comes down to an unharmonious mix of lowest common denominator satire and treacly emotionalism.

  • Every festival needs their misfire to make the other programming shine brighter, but Alexander Payne's dull-as-dirt road trip through the Midwest—as seen through the caricatured relationship between cantankerous dad Bruce Dern and his quietly incensed son Will Forte—is the kind of condescending look at funny-looking, weird-talking Americana that gives New York aesthetes a bad name.

  • Ever since “About Schmidt,” and never more so than in “Nebraska,” the calculated wheels of comedy loudly whirr in the foreground. By all reports, Nelson’s original script kept the comedy to a low volume, while Payne’s additions amped it up. The intent may have been to add warmth to a pretty sad tale, but the result is broad manipulation when simple, human storytelling—say, in the vein of Richard Ford—would have been enough.

  • A certain shrugging sourness has been Payne's career-long signature, coloring films as wonderful as "Election" and as phony as "The Descendants" alike, but only in more recent works has that perspective been presented as humanism: how much empathy and affection you detect in "Nebraska"'s gallery of bitter old coots will affect how warmly you respond to it.

  • A likeably addled Straight Story, lacking the firm lucid directorial vision. Woody on Mt. Rushmore: "It don't look finished to me".

  • For a while, as the two make their way southeast, Nebraska works surprisingly well as a bittersweet twofer. Dern, that veteran of American cinema, disappears completely into his role. He nails the distant, cantankerous spirit of his character—a man who’s not quite there, even as he’s locked in conversation. It’s when Nebraska veers off the road, and into the one-horse town David grew up in, that condescending comedy begins to take precedence.

  • For the most part, this is a lovely comedy of regret and remorse that deals with how the prospect of death is viewed by both young and old. At its best, it shows Payne's capacity for a melancholic humanism that captures a consummate mixture of tragedy and comedy.

  • The film's laughs are as low-key as Payne's reflective but straight-shooting style of storytelling, and there's a fair amount of sadness. There's a last-minute dash for warmth, too, but mostly 'Nebraska' is fairly blunt about family relationships and friendships, while preserving the possibility that neither are necessarily bad for you and never getting too tragic or maudlin.

  • [Nebraska builds] to a resolution that’s simultaneously touching and deeply, almost unbearably sad. There’s a sense here of lives largely squandered that feels more genuine than anything in Payne’s last several films (the serious ones—everything post-Election); he finally nails that conflicted tone he’s been after, which might be either optimistic defeatism or defeatist optimism.

  • Shooting in black and white that is as simple, unfussy and unbeautiful as the modest homes in the movie, Mr. Payne draws an emotionally vivid, insistently unsentimentalized portrait of America and forgotten men, like a farmer who was destroyed by working his farm and a war veteran who returned with wounds he never discussed.

  • Ultimately, Payne's films beg the question of whether or not the self-imposed journey of his protagonists have been worth the trip. In the caseNebraska, the trek is one worth embarking on, for both its characters and audience alike.

  • When it comes to portraying the locals of his own provenance, Omaha-bred Payne may leave some sensitivity to be desired. But in Nebraska, the filmmaker's overview of America is extraordinarily, multifariously profound. His mere perception of American iconography, and how its value echoes and evolves through generations, has a walloping impact.

  • If the overall effect of Nebraska’s father-son bonding and attention-must-be-paid pathos doesn’t quite have the zing of the filmmaker’s best work, he’s certainly got an ace in the hole. The praise Dern has earned among Oscar-predix pundits is more than well deserved; while both Forte and costar June Squibb (playing a scene-stealing, trash-talking biddy) deserve kudos, it’s the 77-year-old actor’s valedictory performance that adds brilliance to the film’s bleak Americana.

  • It’s a career-capping performance by Dern, who is so convincing as an addled, drunken, embittered and probably dying man that he doesn’t appear to be acting, but Forte is just as good playing a preoccupied, emotionally constricted man-child... These two aspects of the movie are sometimes in harmony and sometimes in conflict, and after two viewings I feel like there’s a dissonance at the heart of “Nebraska” that Payne doesn’t quite control.

  • For all the knockabout stuff, and the sometimes outrageous one-liners, Nebraska is often at its best when illuminating the Grants’ ordinary griefs and complaints—and managing to pull back from sentiment.

  • The theme of Nebraska... is deep and resonant even if the homespun melodies laid over top of it are often tinny and thin. That the moment when Woody admits that he only went chasing after a jackpot so that he’d have something, anything, to leave to his kids after a lifetime spent steadily losing everything he worked for feels so methodically blueprinted does little to diminish its genuine melancholy. Reader, I cried.

  • The tall tales, one-liners, and complex blend of Midwestern good nature and anomie are from Bob Nelson's screenplay (his first). What Payne lends is a sense of menace and melancholy that, after About Schmidt, Sideways, and The Descendants, feels bracingly new for him.

  • ...In the deceptively schmaltzy denouement, we're not quite watching a man's triumphant re-discovery of himself, but rather the full emergence of a new, more dispiriting form of father-son bonding predicated on the temporary relegation of real problems to shiny distractions.

  • Nebraska is perhaps Payne's finest work yet. This is partly because he has minimized the cheap sub-Coens yokel humor to the point that it's almost negligible. A few vestigial rube gags remain, most notably in the form of the overweight cousins who bully David (Will Forte) and eventually try to strong-arm Woody (Bruce Dern) out of his supposed million-dollar prize. Payne seems to finally realize that this kind of "Hee Haw" pseudo-comedy undercuts his higher aspirations.

  • Throughout, Payne gently infuses the film’s comic tone with strains of longing and regret, always careful to avoid the maudlin or cheaply sentimental... Dern is simply marvelous in a role the director reportedly first offered to Gene Hackman, but which is all the richer for being played by someone who was never as big of a star.

  • Payne has always walked a fine line between sharp social observation that occasionally edges into satire (a little less satire with each new film, I think) and a rich sense of character. In Nebraska, shot in delicately toned black-and-white ’scope, he has made a film that is, at its core, an elegy for the Midwestern men of an earlier era and all the tales and dreams and heartbreaks they left unexpressed and buried beneath a habitually unfazed stoicism.

  • [Nebraska] is Payne’s best, most complex, and most satisfying work to date... Payne is becoming another of America’s great liberal/conservative filmmakers. This is the lineage of Capra and Ford as well as Sturges. It involves the liberal critique of greed and acquisitiveness, and the conservative insistence that something in the idea of American exceptionalism and the celebration of the inspired individual is true...

  • Nebraska at once simplifies and deepens its appeal, with Payne’s writing sharp, affectionate, and, comically, his strongest in years. June Squibb (as Woody’s ascerbic wife, vocally past caring about the opinions of others) turns in spirited supporting work, as do Peg Nagy... and Stacy Keach. David sets out on the trip partly as a lesson—he realizes his father won’t accept no in words—but Payne’s film, in its way as stubborn as Woody, grows into something greater than its one-line premise.

  • Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” is a slow-burning heart-warmer that neatly dodges the cornball bullet of a climactic manly hug. Indeed, it’s Payne’s best movie since his old Jack Nicholson road movie “About Schmidt”—and, in its absence of grandstanding, perhaps better than that.

  • From the start, Payne presents a landscape that both thrums with life and is filled with the past—a past that, in the course of the movie, he pushes to the surface in the poignant person of Woody, whose memory is going and yet who is the living agent of memory... There’s (almost) nothing satirical about Payne’s wry and sarcastic comic views of the Grant family, both nuclear and extended—his jibes are distributed all around with equally sharp pokes, if not quite with equal tenderness...

  • The result is certainly not the most ingratiating of Payne’s movies but it’s hard not to be impressed by the way it holds its nerve, refusing to give Woody any grandstanding cri de coeur speeches, never going soft on us, but shaping the contours of the road-trip narrative so that the son’s growing realisation and acceptance of his father’s largely wasted life and irreversible decline are seen as the self-knowledge he himself needs to deal with his fortysomething malaise.

  • What transpires on this canvas amounts to a state of the union. Regret and loss hang heavy over the landscape. The premise—a delusional man on a quest to claim a non-existent prize—may seem flimsy-cute, but it deepens into something genuinely moving.

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