Coming home with Bruce Dem in Nebraska

by Mark Burger

Filmmaker Alexander Payne, who has never made a bad film, scores again with Nebraska, a comedy/drama distilled through Payne’s unique sensibilities. The film finds its humor in observation, conveyed in an understated, almost subliminal, manner. It’s dry and it’s wry, and sometimes surprisingly moving.

Bruce Dern, in a career-capping role, plays Woody Grant, a grumpy old man who believes he’s won $1 million in a magazine-subscription sweepstakes offer. To this end, he is determined to travel from his home in Billings, Mon. to Lincoln, Neb., so he can claim his prize.

Woody’s long-suffering but loyal wife (June Squibb) and oldest son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) are certain that Woody is delusional. But whether it’s delusion or dream come true, younger son David (Will Forte) — himself at a crossroads in his life — agrees to take his father to Nebraska, seeking an insight (if not an understanding) into his father’s life.

Customarily unconventional in the best Payne tradition, Nebraska moves at its own pace and its own rhythm, not unlike its leading character. It’s a pleasure to see the veteran Dern enjoy one of the very best roles in his career — which he nails effortlessly. Payne has again coaxed superlative work from the entire cast of his film, including Forte, Odenkirk, Rance Howard (as Woody’s equally taciturn brother), Stacy Keach (in a great turn as Woody’s former business partner), and the irrepressible Squibb, who emerges as the film’s principal scene-stealer.

Nebraska is scheduled to open Friday at a/perture cinemas in Winston-Salem. !

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