10DoO #8 – Nebraska (2013)

by Jaime Grijalba.

‘Nebraska’ (2013) is one of those films that will become something more important as the years come, it didn’t come now, and it won’t get any real recognition coming the Oscars this sunday, I’m sure that people have lauded it and put it in their top 10 lists, but a wider recognition is still in the works, and for a great movie like this, in black and white and with a slow pace, and with a humorous yet at times dark mood, it’s just going to be discovered when it comes out in DVD/Bluray and when it’ll be on TV, HBO, if I had to guess. This movie might affect some people, specially those who have a difficult relationship with their fathers, this is a movie, maybe not to reconcile but to understand them, there’s a rough quality in the dialogues between father and son, they are real, they feel real and honest, like when you have that chance and finally talk about things that happened a long time ago and you can’t fully comprehend, and that conversation hurts, but it also heals, as you begin to see why and how it really happened at that time, this movie is an exploration of that moment, expanded for more days, sprinkled with a story about senility, a family that can’t stay united, no matter how they try, and a portrait of a locality, many of those who are dying in the United States, and its simple people, highly impressionable, but never in this movie does the director treat those elements as anything else as one of the most adorable and respectful human beings that you could ever imagine, no matter what they do in the end.

This movie might fit the bill of what is now a household genre in the American movies, that is the Road Movie, and while there are many examples of movies from all over the world who follow a similar structure and plot elements, this still feels like a movie that could only be made in the United States, I mean, look at the title of the film, it’s one of the states that are united! Anyway, besides this awful pun I just made, I think that this movie is the best thing that Alexander Payne has ever done in his life, and while I’m not exactly an expert on his career (most of that comes because of a hate for one of his most lauded movies, ‘Sideways’ (2004) that I found to be an ego trip, disgusting and horrible in every sense, and never funny, as well as another less succesful experiment on the same road movie genre), I can say that looking at the plot and synopsis of the movies that I haven’t seen, I could easily say that they won’t come near to the black and white beauty and emotional script (and acting) that brings together the concept and the elements of togetherness and patience above all that inspire and bring you emotional tears to your eyes. It’s also notable to say that this is Payne’s first film that he doesn’t write a screenplay for, maybe that’s the reason I like it so much? Maybe, who knows.

Because the dialogue here is snappy and joyful, not a drag, as in other Payne films I’ve seen. The characters bring it alive, and what makes me praise this movie and make it among my favorites of those nominated for Best Picture (that won’t grab any awards this sunday, sadly), is the acting from two of the perfomers, June Squibb and Bruce Dern, who was my pick for the best actor of the year, and if I had to choose, it was the best acting I’ve seen in the entire year. Squibb is foul mouthed as the wife of Dern and the mother of the family that is protagonist of this movie, she arrives a point, a pinacle of brilliance in the scene of the graveyard, where they visit dead relatives from both her family and the family of his husband, telling confidences and embarrasing stories about them, a very inappropiate behaviour that is criticized even by her own son, but she maintains as if it was the most natural thing, you’d guess that kind of deadpan performance would be easy, but this is an older woman, who speaks of her sex life and the way that other people tried to get her to bed, all of this while watching graves from people that she knew. On the other hand, there’s Bruce Dern, whose performance feels like something that is taken right out of reality, as if Bruce Dern was really senile, had already gone to the other side of the hill and won’t come back.

Bruce Dern is so lost in its own dellusion of a dream come true in this movie, that at times we don’t just pity him, but also want him to succeed in his quest that is impossible for it to be true, when he receives the scam that he’s won a million dollars, he is determined to go to Nebraska to cash it. There’s a look in his eyes, a dreamy, almost teary-eyed that feels as if we’ve lost him forever in his ruminations of grandeur and richness, with his simple and not complicated dreams for himself and his family, for his generosity as well as his own smug face that he puts on when he talks about his luck. The way he walks and always seems to be a centimeter or two seconds before he trips over his own feet. The way he talks, almost in a rythmic sense, just like Squibb’s performance, make it and rank it among the most impressive that you could see this year, as they help to get across what the film managed to be, and they don’t surpass it, as it’s become common in certain award worthy films, where the performances seem to be the only saving grace in them. This movie becomes something larger, and I thank it for that, and while the end might be predictable and a bit corny, it’s one of those movies that one day you might see with your dad and in the end, you’ll need a hug, and guess who’s there.

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