Has anyone seen my teeth? Bruce Dern stars as Woody Grant in the new film Nebraska by Alexander Payne as a near-senile elderly man who believes he has won a million dollars. Woody’s son David (Will Forte) agrees to drive his father to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to claim the winnings. Along with Woody’s acid tongued wife Kate (June Squibb), the Grant family settles old scores as everyone tries to get a piece of the big prize.
Shot in stunning black and white, the camera glides over the desolate landscape and those who inhabit it with poise and evenness. Worn plain faces hardly move and speak very little as they go about their lives in the heart of the Midwest. The screenplay by Bob Nelson moves as slowly as its characters full of the ordinariness of everyday life. Fiery humor and uncomfortable silences serve as the lifeline for the film, sporadically jolting out with fervor and delight.
Bruce Dern shines as the fallen leader of the Grant family with his wife Kate left to take the helm. June Squibb explodes with wit and grace onscreen as she tries to keep her husband from the brink of humiliation and despair. Will Forte subtly delights as David, Woody’s son, with his strong jaw and caring eyes. His patience for his father begins to mirror the viewer’s patience for the film itself; patience guided by love as David and the audience learns to accept and admire the motley crew despite their failings.
At the heart, Nebraska settles its gaze on the collapse of the American dream. Woody, a man who has worked so hard to earn a living and provide for his family, desperately yearns for a little wealth and prosperity in the face of death. He ultimately feels seduced and abandoned as he tries to reconcile his expectations for life. In one of the most memorable scenes, the Grant family pays a visit to Woody’s childhood home. In the boom of post-war America, Woody’s father built the house in hopes of leaving something permanent for his sons. Withered away by time and covered in weeds, the house stands empty and deserted with no one alive to remember its glory.