Nebraska is an odd film. It’s not a traditional film at all. But it’s not really an arthouse film. It’s not a drama. It’s definitely a comedy, but not in the traditional sense. Usually, lack of clarity in a film’s genre can spark an uneven film or a mixed message. Fortunately, director Alexander Payne weaves through the genres with ease and creates a hilarious and heartfelt adventure with fantastic performances and stellar writing.
Headlining the film is its fantastic performances. Bruce Dern gives what is possibly the best film of his career as a struggling father who seems to have lost grip with reality. Dern is fantastic, but his performance doesn’t carry the film because he is in such a great company of actors. Will Forte gives another one of the most underrated performances of the year and plays off Dern great. June Squibb is hilarious, playing off of Forte and Dern fantastically and consistently are hilarious. All of these performances are believable and hilarious, keeping the film’s fantastic screenplay populated with life.
And now we come to Bob Nelson’s screenplay. This film was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Picture- Musical/ Comedy. Is it really a comedy? Is Her? Is American Hustle or Inside Llewyn Davis a comedy? While the Golden Globes are generally lenient in considering what a comedy is, Nebraska is definitely a comedy, and not just an oddball artsy film. Nebraska is constantly hilarious with sharp wit and several great characters and running gags. The comedy generally aspires from the relationships of the characters, which are only elevated by the great performances. However, there is still a great story and message behind the humor. Nebraska is the story of people trying to find meaning in their lives by recollecting with their past, and that idea is sold as the characters are greeted with memories of their youth both good and bad.
Nebraska is shot in black and white, which seems to be a more popular format for Oscar-seeking films. The decision to shoot the film in black and white was not simply an artistic one, but a devotion to style. Even though the film is set in modern times, the style and pacing seem very retro and simple. The cinematography itself is beautiful. Cinematographer Phedon Papamichael keeps a great sense of the beautiful environments, but always keeps focus on the characters, which are driving all aspects of the film.
The editing of the film is simple and seems to blend comedy and drama wonderfully. However, the first twenty or thirty minutes seem to lack consistently or investment from the audience. The first moments of the film sets up the story of the film well, but seems confused on what type of film it is trying to be, but once the adventure picks up the film becomes more consistent and the humor kicks in. From then on the tone of the film is light and fun, allowing the audience to be able to focus on the great performance.
Nebraska is a hilarious adventure with some of the best performances of the year from Bruce Dern, June Squibb, and Will Forte (who I can now say was completely snubbed for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor). It is unfortunate that Nebraska was not more widely released, for it is one of the best films of the year and deserves its Academy Award nominations. Comedy is hard, and Nebraska pulls it off wonderfully with a great story of people searching for the meaning in their life and recollecting with their past. Nebraska is an underrated gem that deserves the admiration of any fan of cinema. Grade: A