Alexander Payne's follow-up to The Descendants is another film about family, this time returning to his Midwestern roots. An interstate road movie about a senile-leaning father and his reluctant chauffeur son, Nebraska springs forth from the fertile ground of a son trying to do right by his father despite a strained relationship.
Perhaps my feelings on the film are too heavily informed by my roots, but Nebraska magnificently captured every nuance of small-town Midwestern life. The stoicism of the pre-Baby Boom male. The tried and true topics of conversation of the peoples of largely agrarian, shrinking small towns of the plains. The simple pleasures. The age old grudges. The general kindness and interest in personal minutiae. Bob Nelson's screenplay felt as though it could have been written directly from afternoons in my childhood. It was equal parts knowingly detached and lovingly attached, dancing brilliantly between the two, striking a wonderful balance.
And Alexander Payne pressed all the right buttons. The tone--from the performances to the black-and-white stock--is pitch perfect. Bob Odenkirk and the sublime June Squibb hit every note, but Will Forte and Bruce Dern play the parts of beleaguered but faithful son and father teetering on the edge of senility with perfection. The support, particularly the cast employed in Hawthorne, is also spot on, with the football watching scene being one of the highlights of the last year in cinema.
Seemingly every decision Payne makes works out wonderfully. The dynamic between Forte and Dern is particularly fruitful, but the casting of the relatively little-known character actress June Squibb really sets the movie apart. Nebraska is wildly funny but retains a poignancy and heart that endear it so much more than nearly every other film of the past year. On the heels of The Descendants, it was hard to imagine Alexander Payne making a film as outstanding as it, but in Nebraska he exceeds expectations.