NYFF51 Spotlight: Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” Takes American Gothic on the Road

Posted by Brian Brooks on 8.29.2013


Alexander Payne's Nebraska

Nearly a decade after Sideways, Alexander Payne takes to the road once again with his latest film, Nebraska, which will screen at the upcoming 51st New York Film Festival. Bruce Dern won immediate praise in Cannes including an Acting Award for his role as an aging father, Woody, who naively believes he has won $1 million in a sweepstakes. The money offers Woody a chance at a success that has eluded him his entire life. Payne returned to his home state to film this intimate story that unfolds in black and white.

"[Black and white] just seemed like the right thing to do with this film," Payne said in Cannes in May. "I've always wanted to do a black and white film. Black and white left our cinema because of commercial, not artistic reasons. I felt a medium as austere as the lives depicted here was appropriate."

Nebraska also stars Will Forte as Woody's middle-aged son, who has not had the most compatible relationship with his father. After Woody receives the letter informing him of his "winnings," David tells him the letter is fake, while Woody's tough-minded wife (June Squibb) tells her husband he's a flat-out fool. Woody is crusty and perhaps experiencing the onset of dementia, but he's focused on the money he believes is his.

"When I saw the material, I knew I had to go after the role however I could…" said Dern. "I didn't have a relationship with my father, but at the end of this movie, I found my father and that's Alexander."


Alexander Payne and Bruce Dern on the set of Nebraska

"Dern is simply marvelous in a role…," said Scott Foundas in his review for Variety in Cannes. "Looking suitably disheveled and sometimes dazed, he conveys the full measure of a man who has fallen short of his own expectations, resisting the temptation to overplay, letting his wonderfully weathered face course with subtle shades of sorrow, self-loathing and indignation."

The Hollywood Reporter added: "This is a resounding return to form for Payne: there are moments that recall his earlier road movies About Schmidt and Sideways."

Nebraska
U.S., 2013, 110 min.
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Bob Nelson
Cast: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach

NYFF Official Description:

On the outskirts of Billings, Montana, an old man named Woody (Bruce Dern) is picked up by the roadside. He is going for a long walk, to Lincoln, Nebraska where he believes a million dollar prize awaits. His mild-mannered son Dave (Will Forte), tired of explaining reality to his taciturn dad and pacifying his exasperated mom (June Squibb), agrees to drive Woody all the way to Lincoln. Alexander Payne’s new film, from a script by fellow Nebraskan Bob Nelson, is a melancholy comedy that shades into multiple hues and overtones – the most hilarious stretch logically develops into the most moving passage (the family’s return to their old house); the sharp comic edges, based on a close understanding of Midwestern reserve, form just one element in Payne’s greater emotional pattern. Filled with wonderful characters and composed in the most expressive black and white in years, Nebraska is a portrait of a way of life and of the single life of one quiet man. A Paramount Vintage release

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