Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) keeps getting picked up by the troopers because they find him walking along highways in Billings, Montana. When asked where he is going, he says Lincoln, Nebraska. That’s 850 miles. He got mail from Publisher’s Clearing House that says he won a million dollars. Since nobody is willing to drive him, he decides to walk. His younger son, David Grant (Will Forte) decides to give him a ride.
Thus starts a road-trip adventure that reminded me of Sideways (by the same director, Alexander Payne) and Little Miss Sunshine.
During the road trip, we get to know Woody and his extended family, whom they are visiting along the way in a little town where Woody grew up. Much of the family dirt and dysfunction surfaces.
Woody is a cantankerous grouch who seems like he no longer has all his marbles. Broken by decades of verbal abuse from his wife Kate (June Squibb), he has abandoned his dreams and lost his vitality. There is little spirit left in him. He wants to get his million dollars so he can buy himself a new pickup truck – something he wanted all his life.
The whole movie is in black and white. I didn’t feel that was necessary. It gave a winter mood. I could not distinguish between yellow spring grass and patches of snow. The score and the cinematography made it feel like a movie from the fifties or sixties – the time when Woody was a young man of vigor and spunk, yet a son-of-a-bitch who was indifferent to his kids and didn’t care about his wife nonetheless.
Watching Nebraska was depressing. A life gone by with nothing left but the will to make it to Nebraska. Relatives and friends steeped in envy, none of them with anything to show for themselves. Empty stares at bottles of beer in smoky bars. Broken people everywhere. Only a little reprieve at the end, an uplift as Woody and his son David drive off into the sunset.
There were several Oscar nominations for this movie, one for Bruce Dern for best actor, another for Kate Squibb as best supporting actress. I felt their performances were excellent, but I must say that I didn’t think of them as Oscar-excellent.