You don’t have to listen to Bruce Springsteen’s album, Nebraska, to understand that life there is excluded from the Apple Pie chapter in The Great American Storybook, but it helps.
Alexander Payne’s black-and-white film follows his route into the Midwest where dreams die.
Woody (Bruce Dern) has reached the age where he can say, “I have a right to do what I like,” without knowing what that is exactly.
He has dementia and is (was?) an alcoholic. He tells his son David (Will Forte), “You’d drink if you were married to your mother.”
The lady in question (June Squibb) finds living with Woody a burden that requires no explanation because you can see for yourself in his wasted, irrational behaviour.
When he receives a letter from a magazine in Lincoln, Nebraska, telling him that he has won a million dollar sweepstake, he ignores advise that it’s a scam and starts walking from Billings Montana. Eventually David agrees to drive him and on the way they visit the small town where he spent his early life.
Conversation with past acquaintances and dysfunctional relatives is reminiscent of Marty.
“What’s up, Woody?”
“Nothin’. What’s up with you?”
Animosities are left hanging when the good ole boys hear that Woody will soon be a millionaire, which David knows won’t happen, and crowd him with flattery and financial demands.
Despite a languid start, the film is life affirming and often extremely funny, thanks to the incomparable Ms Squibb.
Dern’s performance is a master class. How broken is broken down?
He defines it. Perfectly.