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  Nebraska Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
Year: 2013
Director: Alexander Payne
Stars: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach, Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Angela McEwan, Glendora Stitt, Elizabeth Moore, Kevin Kunkel, Dennis McCoig, Ronald Vosta, Missy Doty, John Reynolds
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Elderly Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) has been found walking along the side of a highway and his son David (Will Forte) has to fetch him and take him back to his house, which he shares with his wife Kate (June Squibb) who is quick to criticise her husband the moment David's car pulls up. The reason the old man was wandering by himself was that he received junk mail telling him he had won a million dollars, but his son soon sees that it is a scam and tries to convince Woody of the fact. However, he will not be convinced and is determined to hand over the supposed prize letter in person to collect his winnings, not trusting the postal service, so David settles on a compromise: how about he drives his father, who has no licence, to the office in question?

Director Alexander Payne was originally from the state of Nebraska, though if this was a tribute it was a strange one. It was one of the few movies he had made that he had no hand in the scripting of, that being the product of first time screenwriter (for movies) Bob Nelson, whose work was so good that Payne was keen to helm it himself; it took a while, but he did get around to it and the only person he wanted for the lead was Bruce Dern. Dern was an actor whose canon consisted of character roles, he was never a traditional leading man and had the career to prove it, but he did have a loyal following of fans built up over decades of excellent work and they were delighted when this late on part secured him an Oscar nomination.

Not for Best Supporting Actor, as his previous nominations had been, but for the lead, and when you saw what a controlled performance he was able to give even at this stage in his life, it was easy to feel a little regret he lost on the big night to Matthew McConaughey (who was unstoppable at that point, to be fair). Dern's Woody Grant is a man who gives nothing to his sons emotionally, and has been like that all their lives so although David has warmer, or at least more sympathetic, feelings towards his father than his TV anchorman brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk, like Forte another comedian cast against type) he is getting no response from a parent whose lasting legacy to him appears to have been a dependency on alcohol that David has recently shaken off. Dern here was not cold, exactly, but he was distant, and that can be quietly devastating.

David is well aware that Woody's lack of reaction to him has engendered a sense of failure he still hasn't shaken off, even now in his forties, but this trip to the prize offices in Lincoln, Nebraska could be a chance for them to bond and build a relationship they have never gotten close to having, not even when David was a boy. Dern and Forte worked perfectly together, judging both the comedy and the sadness with ease, neither trying to steal the movie from the other: they left that to June Squibb, an actress in her eighties who also secured an Oscar nomination. Hers was a more showy role, overtly broad and comedic, but she kept herself grounded in Kate's irascibility born of a lifetime of exasperation with her husband. One theme was about looking back on your existence and spotting why one thing happened and another didn't, wondering if your choices had been correct and judging whether regret should loom large.

Kate joins Woody and David halfway through their journey when waylaid at the town they all grew up in. Soon word has got around that a lot of money has been won, and not unexpectedly the extended family arrive for a get-together but actually to circle like vultures until they can get the share they believe is due them, that in spite of David and Ross (he shows up too) protesting there are no winnings whatsoever. Not only family, either: Stacy Keach offered a finely honed reading of bumptious menace as Woody's old pal Ed Pegram, who hangs around in the same bar and swoops down on him to see if he can secure a few grand that according to him he is owed and we can see he is nothing of the sort, even if he did lend Woody a small sum many years ago. This could have been a bleak tale of just how mean-minded ordinary folks can be, but there were many big laughs as well betraying a curious affection the film had for its main characters. When Woody admits why he wanted the prize and it's not because he wanted to be rich, it's a really nice moment in a melancholy film. Music by Mark Orton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Alexander Payne  (1961 - )

American writer/director of offbeat comedy drama. Payne's first film was the abortion satire Citizen Ruth, but it was 1999's acclaimed, Oscar-nominated satire Election brought the director to prominence. The affecting road movie About Schimdt showcased one of Jack Nicholson's best ever performances, while 2004's Sideways gained Payne yet more awards and acclaim. Seven years later came the Hawaii-set follow up, The Descendants, which was similarly lauded, then shortly afterwards the multi-Oscar-nominated and expertly judged Nebraska. Downsizing, on the other hand, was a costly sci-fi flop.

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