Director Alexander Payne of “Sideways,” “About Schmidt” and “The Descendents” fame, is getting raves for his latest festival darling, “Nebraska,” and particularly for the performance of star Bruce Dern, who’s being talked about as a Best Actor Oscar contender. I’ve always thought Dern was a compelling actor (his role in “Coming Home” still haunts me), so I’m glad he’s getting his due. But after seeing the film at today’s Cinema Society screening, I’m thinking it’s June Squibb, who plays the wife of Dern’s character, who’ll more likely walk off with a statuette for Best Supporting Actress. She’s terrific.
The movie is yet another road trip from Payne, this one about an alcoholic with some level of dementia (Dern) who’s convinced he won a million dollars after getting the standard Publishers Clearing House-type letter in the mail – the sort of letter only meant to make you buy magazines. His younger son, played by former SNL comedian Will Forte in a surprising dramatic role, begrudgingly drives Dad to Lincoln, Nebraska to “claim” his jackpot but really just to humor the guy and possibly have one last chance to bond with him. The film was shot in black and white, and the cinematography of the rural Midwestern landscape is beautiful. Payne used both actors and locals for a combination of some of the great screen faces you’ll ever see – those “lost” people who are living lives of quiet desperation.
There are comical moments along with the more poignant ones and they’re very welcome. I found the pace a bit slow, but I was persuaded by my friends that that’s how things are in the Midwest. Is Dern this year’s Best Actor? Too soon to say since I haven’t seen many of the other big movies yet. He’s very good, if one note, but I did appreciate how easy it would have been for him to overact the part and he didn’t; I was never conscious of his “acting.”
“Nebraska” was definitely worth seeing, and I enjoyed hearing Forte and Squibb discussing their roles during the Q&A. Forte seemed genuinely thrilled and humbled to have found himself in an Alexander Payne movie, and Squibb is just a firecracker. Loved her.