Alexander Payne has built his brilliant career on examinations of pathetic characters—and I mean that literally, not pejoratively. In the black-and-white Nebraska, a combination Valentine and fuck-you to his home state, he continues this project, but to dishearteningly flat results. You can predict the emotional arc based on the premise alone: David (Will Forte) decides to accompany his near-senile father, Woody (Bruce Dern), with whom he has a fractious relationship, on a road trip from Montana to Nebraska to claim the million-dollar magazine sweepstakes prize Woody believes he’s won. Payne’s typically trenchant observations on humanity’s soft underbelly feel broad, perhaps due to his non-involvement in the script, a first. Instead, the film rests on lazy humor (get your overweight, mouth-breathing Midwesterners here!), forced provocations (crotch-flashing at a cemetery!) and ingratiating moments of father-son bonding (David and Woody recover lost dentures near the train tracks!). After unsparing takedowns of self-delusion in Citizen Ruth and Election, more forgiving assessments in About Schmidt and Sideways and the line-walking of The Descendants, it’s disappointing to see Payne succumb to sentimentality untempered by insight or depth.
- Running Time:
- Release Date: Tuesday, October 29, 2013
- MPAA Rating: R
- Critic's Score: C
- Watch the trailer