Two hit movies nominated this year for Academy Awards have something in common: Both films mock the con game that passes for the modern American dream and both uphold the transcendent importance of the emotional ties that bind members of an immediate family.
‘American Hustle’ is more ethnic, overtly funny and synched to the fast tempo of life in the 95 corridor of East Coast American culture. ‘Nebraska’ on the other hand is white-bread and lost in fly-over country in Montana and Nebraska. Being shot in black and white actually sharpens its artistic and emotional impact.
What? A movie that would not have worked in color and with digital special effects?
‘Nebraska’ pulls no punches on the downside of salt-of-the-earth Americans who settled this county with none of the sophistication of their European forbears. But as its main character put it: “I served my country and I paid my taxes” before unleashing some profanity at his son who was trying to tell him what he couldn’t do (drink beer).
Bruce Dern plays an old man (Woody) of very few words, a Korean War veteran, who decides late in life that a letter informing him that he’s won a million dollars is going to make his dead-end life turn out good after all. His lackluster Midwestern sons and his loud-mouthed wife denounce him as fool who drinks too much but they can’t stop him from setting out to collect his money. On the road trip, the son (David) played by Will Forte, finally figures out who his old man really is. That million dollars and the riveting side trip through his hometown were not that high on his priority list after all.
David: “Dad! Dad!”
Woody: “Leave me alone!”
David: “Dad, I can’t let you go.”
Woody: “It’s none of your business.”
David: “Yes, it is. I’m your son.”
Woody: “Then why don’t you take me?”
David: “I can’t just drop everything and drive to Lincoln, Nebraska.”
Woody: “Oh, what else you got going on?”
Woody’s wife, visiting the cemetery and hilariously disparaging his side of the family, is asked if any of her relatives are there: “Oh, they’re over in the Catholic cemetery. Catholics wouldn’t be caught dead around all these damn Lutherans.”
Receptionist at award marketing firm: “Does he have Alzheimer’s?”
Son: “No, he just believes what people tell him.”
Receptionist: “That’s too bad”
Father to son: “Have a drink with your old man. Be somebody!”