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Nebraska, Alexander Payne (2013)

NEBRASKA
Some stilted acting from the support staff, some over-baked moments of sentiment, and a consistent willingness to come pretty close to mockery when pointing the camera at non-coastal Americans (NCA’s! we ought to apply to the feds for protected-class status), but all the good things buoying this movie won’t let its problems sink it. The MacGuffin is simple as a stick: An old grump on the verge of dementia gets a dopey sweepstakes flyer in the mail and thinks he’s actually won a million dollars, so he determines to get to Omaha from Billings to collect his prize. His wife and sons can’t talk him out of it, so off they go. Simple, but brilliant too. The dream of quick riches, the road trip quest, the mad solitaire, the yearning to make meaning of a life on the edge of its end — all sorts of archetypes are in play, especially American ones. The movie’s super smart about aging and raging against the dying of the light, and pairs that theme elegantly with subtle but devastating demonstrations of America’s once vital “heartland” in tatters. The main street in the small town where the family washes up makes the main street in The Last Picture Show look like the Miracle Mile. The young men are out of work and fat; the old men are lean, Lutheran-silent, and obsessed with how great their old Buicks were. The women — not a well-represented or much considered constituency here, which is too bad; more could have been done — appear to do not much but make sandwiches, until now and then we realize that they’re the ones contriving to keep their families together and solvent. It is perhaps unkind and unnecessary to say so, but I found June Squibb hammy and Will Forte annoying. Bruce Dern is absolutely fantastic; he makes one of the roundest characters I’ve seen on the screen in a long time.

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  1. Fantastic — you’ve made me look forward to watching this even more. (Holy moly, Joley, you have been keeping up this blog for a very long time! I vaguely remember you starting it back in the day, and then lost track of it, and am very impressed at how consistent you’ve been. I hope you have a powerful search engine.)

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