The best thing, worst thing, and main thing about Alexander Payne’s latest “Nebraska” in about the time it takes to watch the trailer. Don’t forget to take a shot at the “best ever” question in the comments!
Last year after watching “The Descendants” I thought, “Sweet, Alexander Payne is making movies I like now” Turns out it may have just been a one time deal.
“Nebraska” is the latest from director Alexander Payne, once again taking middle america and finding veins of dark humor to mine deeply. This story follows a family as they deal with a elderly father who decides he will not be stopped from taking a trip to Nebraska to claim a million dollar prize they all know isn’t real. Oh Alexander Payne, I really wish I got your movies, I mean other people do, they find them deep and insightful and full of love and life, and I just seem to find them slow and without purpose. OK, that’s probably being a bit too harsh, I actually did like a few things about this movie.
First of all, Bruce Dern is amazing. He plays the old man at the center of it all, and does so with a real honesty. He treats the character with a real sense of age, not just some geezer caricature that you might usually see. It was really the only performance that worked for me, but it was enough that I could invest in the story at least a little. The best thing about Nebraska, however, was the way it just kept growing on me. For the first 40 minutes I thought I might be watching one of the most overrated movies of all time, I was bored, lost, and completely aloof from any concern for this family. And then bit by bit I started to care, started to smile at this family and the way they co existed. It’s kinda like Shakespeare a bit, in that you have to find the rhythm to it before you can start to enjoy it. Once I was able to lock in I found some fun, but it just took so long to get there that I’m not sure it was worth it.
It’s as if the movie wants to be a straightforward no frills story, but also wants to be a quirky comedy. The problem is it was never straight enough to nail the heart and never quirky enough to nail the humor. That lack of consistency always left me distracted and off balance and even worse terribly bored. The worst thing though has to be the choice to present the movie in Black and White. What am I missing here? Why strip the movie of color when it can be such a great storytelling tool? I get it if you are making an artistic or thematic point a la Schindlers list, Psycho, or goodness sakes even Frankenweenie made sense, but what’s the point here? It just seems like such an arbitrary and unnecessary choice and stole energy from a movie that was already short on it to begin with. Then again, like I said, maybe I just don’t get Alexander Payne.
Overall “Nebraska” is a great performance by Bruce Dern that gets lost in a colorless and often boring tale. Despite finding some things to like about it by the end, I can’t give it more than a C+.
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