Friday, 28 February 2014

Old People

The road trip. Ram a load of young college kids into a VW van and you have a film. The destination does not matter. The sex and drinking do. Now what if you remove young college kids and replace them with old people. Keep the sex talk and the drinking. What do you get? This is Nebraska.

An ageing alcoholic by the name of Woody (Bruce Dern) gets a letter saying he has won $1million. Naturally, he wants to set straight out to claim his winnings so he begins to walk to Nebraska. From Montana. That's pretty far for a 77 year old. His sons David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk), and his wife Kate (June Squibb) try to convince him that is all a scam, but Woody is stubborn and eventually David agrees to take him. After hitting some troubles on route, they stay with some family in Hawthorne, Nebraska where Woody grew up, and Woody begins to explore his old town. When he reveals that he has won some money, he becomes a local celebrity and everyone wants to be his friend, or get some money out of him. Cue a lot of bar scenes and a lot of swearing from an old lady, this is the road trip of the future featuring heroes from the past.

Bruce Dern, at 77 years of age, is getting the leading man acclaim that he well and truly deserves. Woody is an incredibly realised performance who is entirely loveable and at the same time it is impossible to not fully identify with Forte's David and his annoyance at his father. Speaking of Forte, a man known for his comedy work, puts in a fantastic turn here. Further proof that comedy actors should not be limited as such. Whilst the film is absolutely hilarious, it is the reality of the relationship primarily between David and Woody that makes the film so honestly touching. There is a true sense of family between all the leads and a clear, real love for Woody from Squibb's Kate. At first she comes across as a cynical, grumpy old lady, but as the narrative progresses, we see what she has to deal with on a daily basis with Woody and suddenly you realise how much she truly loves him. It is the most honest representation of ageing love since Amour

She's just a little old lady... oh.
With an absolutely exceptional script by Bob Nelson, Nebraska rattles along in black and white doing something extremely risky in mainstream cinema. It shows people as they are. It does not cast these gloriously attractive actors to play us normal people. And by shooting the film in black and white, an overwhelming sense of melancholy settles over the film, despite it being so funny. Alexander Payne's direction has a clear sense of purpose, filling the film with long shots of a colourless Nebraska farmland with small silhouettes of his characters looking out over the land. Time is precious, detail is important, but most of all, keeping good relationships will get you far in this world.

A truly spectacular achievement in cinema. Absolutely beautiful to watch and gloriously meaningful. Plus, ridiculously funny and also extremely touching. Payne's newest masterpiece has it all and it is one you could watch again and again.

Best Bit? Perhaps it fits quite well with the dampened happiness of the film but the family take a trip to the cemetery to see where Woody's family are buried. Kate, who clearly did not get on with them all too well, discusses each grave in turn that would have the deceased rolling under her feet. 

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