Katherine Perington reviews the monochrome comedy Nebraska.
Masterfully crafted by director Alexander Payne, Nebraska is a black and white comedy drama which has earned six Academy Award nominations (including the highly coveted award for best picture) and it’s easy to see why.
The film follows Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a stubborn and alcoholic old man with failing physical and mental health on a road trip with his son David (Will Forte) to collect a $1 million sweepstakes prize in Lincoln, Nebraska. Woody is convinced he has won despite his family’s protests and his wife Kate’s (June Squibb) anger at the foolish and naïve venture. When they arrive in Woody’s home town in Nebraska for a family reunion before the collection, the locals soon learn of the supposed wealth and begin swooping in like vultures all intent on seeing some of the money.
The choice to shoot in black and white perfectly encapsulates the mundanity and harshness of small town life in America. Long, almost uncomfortable camera shots of the bleak landscape and battered advertising billboards leave the viewer with sympathy for anyone who would cling to even the remotest chance to improve their life.
The severity of the monochrome background is lessened by the comic inter-play between the characters, especially from Kate who gives a hilarious and bitchy performance as Woody’s long-suffering catholic wife. Bruce Dern’s performance is captivating, showing the male disappointment and angst that surrounds everything.
But the true heart of the film lies not just in the deluded and doomed fantasy of collecting the million dollars. It lies in the surprisingly rich and vivid life that David discovers his father once led, in stark contrast to the present day where Woody’s opposing traits of submissiveness and determination are successfully depicted by Dern.
The film is beautifully shot and contains just the right balance of humour and warmth to counteract the sadness, frustration and barren nature of the surroundings and cruel realities of life.