Nebraska – 5 stars

Alexander Payne’s black-and-white portrait of a geriatric mid-westerner (Bruce Dern) intent on getting from Montana to Nebraska to collect a sham $1 million sweepstakes prize is patient, lyrical and loving.  The film evokes David Lynch’s The Straight Story in its pathos, but it also contains a wry sense of humor, largely provided by Dern’s suffering younger son (SNL alum Will Forte) and his brutal, loudmouth but ultimately protective wife (June Squibb)  Lesser films would have played up the wackiness of the extended family, who now believe Dern is flush and are making their claims, or they would have provided Dern the platform to release his Korean war demons or his crushed dreams to his son on their journey.  There is none of that easy bull here.  Instead, Payne presents an authentic portrait of a stoic rural family (Dern seems to have 7 brothers, all of whom watch the NFL with nary a quiver) steeled by time and want, with the very true message that most people don’t really know much about their parents, and that their pasts grow more foreign to us every day.  This film is a lesson in restraint, and Payne (The Descendants, Sideways, Election, Citizen Ruth) has cemented his place as a writer/director with a unique, American voice.

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