One of life’s sad realities is the amount of noise out there that’s simply not to be believed. Whether it’s willful deception or thoughtless omission, we all learn that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
It’s this “too good to be true” mindset that holds Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” together.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) believes. Whether it’s old age, enduring naiveté, or a mindset from a bygone era, is not clear, and it’s not the point. He believes in people. So, when he gets a note saying he’s won a million dollars, he doesn’t recognize it as the scam that it is. He believes, and he starts making his way, the only way he can—on foot. All that stands between him and his plan to walk from his home in Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, to collect his million is his loving family.
Woody’s wife, Kate (June Squibb) tells it like it is. There’s no malice in her honesty, just truth and a fair amount of colorful language. By the sounds of things, just about every man she met in her youth wanted to get in her pants, and she’s not afraid to talk about it. Yet, there’s something undeniably sweet about this woman. Her affection for her family is loud and somewhat critical, but it’s there.
Woody’s younger son, David (Will Forte), is trying to make changes in his life. He’s just split with his girlfriend of two years because he didn’t want to get married, and is beginning to wonder where he is actually headed. Woody’s persistence in heading towards Nebraska eventually breaks him down, and he and Woody set off on a road trip to collect that million.
The black and white filter and the small town surroundings give this story the feel of another simpler time, but there are plenty of reminders that this is a modern-day tale. As our story slowly makes its way towards its final destination, there are more than a few reminders of the high-speed world in which they live. David’s cousins even tease him about how slowly he drives. There’s no rush, as long as they make it to Lincoln by the contest deadline.
It’s a reminder or a slower, simpler time and place where people trusted each other and took their time, and it’s right in the middle of the here and now.
When Woody and David finally do make it to Lincoln, the woman at the office asks David if Woody has Alzheimer’s. His response is perfect, “No, he just believes what people tell him.”
She responds, “That’s too bad.” It is.
I’ve never been to Nebraska, or Montana, or any of the states the Grants journey through for that matter, but there’s something very familiar about the wide sweeping shots of the Northwestern and Midwestern fields in this movie. These are places we’ve all sped past before. I for one have found myself wondering, as I speed past on the interstate, about what kind of lives are led by those living in the huge open spaces between our country’s mega-cities. “Nebraska” feels like a brief, but brilliant glimpse into just one of those stories.