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Cannes Review Roundup: Alexander Payne's 'Nebraska' a Wistful but Slight Father-Son Road Trip Film

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood May 23, 2013 at 12:33PM

Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father and son embarking on a roadtrip, screened today at Cannes. The response is thus far mixed to positive, with praise for the film's wistful tone and a "career-crowning" performance from Dern. Those less impressed site the film's slightness, calling it "affably unexceptional" and that it provides "not much to talk about." Roundup below.
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"Nebraska"
"Nebraska"

Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte as a father and son embarking on a roadtrip, screened today at Cannes. The response is thus far mixed to positive, with praise for the film's wistful tone and a "career-crowning" performance from Dern. Those less impressed site the film's slightness, calling it "affably unexceptional" and that it provides "not much to talk about." Roundup below.

In a previous interview with TOH!, Payne described the film as "a father/son road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska that gets waylaid at a crappy town in central Nebraska where the father (Bruce Dern) grew up, and where he has scores to settle." Dern's character, a washed-up, alcholic dad, believes he's won a Publisher's Clearing House million-dollar sweepstakes, forcing his distant son (Forte) to come along for some bonding and inevitable mischief-making. 

Variety:

After making side trips to California’s Central Coast and Hawaii (for “Sideways” and “The Descendants,” respectively), Alexander Payne returns to his home state of Nebraska for his sixth directorial feature, a wistful ode to small-town Midwestern life and the quixotic dreams of stubborn old men. Sporting a career-crowning performance by Bruce Dern and a thoroughly impressive dramatic turn by “SNL”/“30 Rock” alum Will Forte, Payne’s first film based on another writer’s original screenplay (by debut feature scribe Bob Nelson) nevertheless fits nicely alongside his other low-concept, finely etched studies of flawed characters stuck in life’s well-worn grooves.

Guardian:

After the glossy and faintly implausible Oscar-bait picture, The Descendants, director Alexander Payne has returned to a more natural and personal movie language for his new film in the Cannes competition. Nebraska is a bittersweet road movie starring Bruce Dern and Will Forte as Woody and David, an elderly father and middle-aged son taking an uncomfortable road trip together. ..Nebraska may not be startlingly new, and sometimes we can see the epiphanies looming up over the distant horizon; the tone is, moreover, lighter and more lenient than in earlier pictures like Sideways. But it is always funny and smart, and what is unexpected is the cracking performance from June Squibb as Woody's cantankerous wife, Kate.

Telegraph:

Happily, his new film is The Descendants’ exact opposite, to the extent that Payne could quite easily have called it The Ancestors. In fact its title is Nebraska, and it screened in Cannes on Thursday morning as part of the festival’s competition strand. Payne’s film is a bittersweet elegy for the American extended family, shot in a crisp black-and-white that chimes neatly with the film’s concern for times long past.

Like every Payne movie, "Nebraska" involves neurotic characters afraid of their own mortality. The specter of death and lives not worth living hangs over "Nebraska." It's a subtle idea that lacks inspiration. A Nebraska native, Payne has evidently made a personal movie about a place and time where nobody goes anywhere but most people make peace with their limitations. With the affably unexceptional "Nebraska," Payne follows suit.

Befitting its Paramount heritage, there is a muted Preston Sturges element to the film’s view of the human condition in the way the populace’s heads are completely turned by the presence of celebrity, which the confused Woody [Bruce Dern] now represents, and a possible financial windfall. Two of Sturges’s classics, Hail the Conquering Hero and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, turned on very similar premises.

Part of the issue is that there isn’t that much else to talk about.


This article is related to: Reviews, Cannes Film Festival, Alexander Payne, Alexander Payne, Bruce Dern, Nebraska, Will Forte


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.