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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 4, 2014

"Nebraska" Movie Review: Deserves To Be Nominated As Oscar Best Picture

WE’RE GLAD ‘Nebraska’ was released here even on a limited run at SM Cinemas. As expected, since it’s a non-commercial film shot in black and white, only a few people bothered to watch it. Its director, Alexander Payne, has come up with a beautiful slice of Americana where the characters really look like ordinary, real people. Some are eccentric, some are obnoxious, but they’re all genuine.

The story focuses on Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), an old former mechanic who lives in Billings, Montana. He believes he won $1 million in a mail-order sweepstakes and becomes so obsessed on going to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim his prize even if he has to walk all the way. Explanations of his wife and two sons that it’s not true all fall on deaf ears. One of his sons, David (Will Forte, more of a comedian in “Saturday Night Live”), decides to drive him to Nebraska and, just like other Alexander Payne movies, this becomes a road trip.

In Nebraska, they visit some old relatives of Woody who they haven’t seen for ages in Hawthorne, where he grew up. Here’s where we meet so many old folks in small town America who all believe that Woody really won a million dollars. No one would listen when David tells them it’s not true, even believing they have a share in Woody’s winnings. And that’s when stories about old debts start cropping up. There’s really not much of a story to speak of. It’s mainly about family, human nature and how some people never learn.

Most of the actors in his movies have been nominated as best actor, just like Jack Nicholson in “About Schmidt”, Paul Giamatti in “Sideways” and the best for us, George Clooney in “The Descendants”. “Nebraska” works mainly because Bruce Dern is superb as Woody. His is not necessarily a lovable character as he’s a drunkard who’s so stubborn, set in his ways, even unpleasant, and you can see senility setting in. But Dern succeeds in making him not a mere caricature of a grumpy old man who’s about to lose all his marbles. He’s particularly fine in that scene where they visit their old house, now dilapidated, and he has nothing to go back home to but his memories.

He’s matched every step of the way by Will Forte in his first dramatic role. He has his own relationship problems, not only with the girl he used to live with but also with his own bullying cousins. He also effectively portrays the conflicting feelings of grownup children with aging, deteriorating parents: losing one’s patience, getting so frustrated, but somehow feeling guilty all about it. Then there’s the scene-stealing June Squibb as Woody’s feisty wife who has no qualms about speaking her mind, even using filthy language. Honestly, we find her performance even more affecting than that of best supporting actress winner Lupita Nyong’O.

The film is enriched by the presence and performance of so many old folks in roles that are both big and small. One of the best is the old woman who plays the editor of a small newspaper who was Woody’s past girlfriend. It’s a very fetching performance since she humanizes the character of Woody in the eyes of his son David as he learns more about his dad.

You’d think the film is an offbeat drama but it’s constructed more like an endearing comedy about one’s expectations and disappointments in life. Without the comic elements, like the scene in the railroad tracks while they’re looking for Woody’s missing false teeth, it can so easily lapse into tragedy. If you like the past works of Payne, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy this one, even if it has this lingering undertow of sadness.