Thursday, March 13, 2014

Take a bow, Woody!

My closest friend in high school used to say that he wanted to die at 50. He was convinced that after that, life was simply not worth living anymore.  Who would want to be old? was his argument. Now at the time we were teenagers, so despite our deepening voices suggesting otherwise, neither of us really had a f--king clue as to what we were talking about. But, in a way, it made sense.

Just like every single other aspect of life, once you have kids, things change. You have to be there for them. Period. You quickly realize that there are many things worse than being old. How about being miserable your whole life? Or broke? Or, shit.

How about being all three?

In Alexander Payne's Oscar-nominated film Nebraska, main character Woody Grant personifies the unholy trinity mentioned above. He's legitimately old (he's in his eighties), he's fairly miserable (his wife basically hates him), and he's got no money. Oh, and he's also a drunk who never really gave a shit about his kids. But in a final act of desperation, ol' Woodrow might be able to redeem a life full of disappointment and drunken indifference. Woody, it seems, has a golden ticket.

Less chocolate factory, more Publisher's Clearing House, Woody believes he has received a letter stating that he has won a million dollars. Instead of mailing it in ("I'm not trusting the mail with a million dollars"), his plan is to shuffle himself eight-hundred plus miles from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. Even knowing his father hasn't really won anything, Woody's son David reluctantly decides to drive him. At the very least, David thinks, he'll get to spend some time with his Dad.

While the movie tends to move at a pace similar to an old mad dragging himself down the shoulder of an interstate, Nebraska never bored me. Woody appears to be a uniformly bad person, but through the eyes of his ever-loyal son, a different truth is slowly revealed. Sure, Woody's not much of a hero, but seldom of us are. We just try to do the best with what we have. And the way I see it, Woody didn't really have much to begin with.

Essentially, Nebraska is a road-trip movie that doesn't really go anywhere. But, it doesn't really need to. Most of the film is spent in the town of Hawthorne, the place where Woody's parents (presumably) born and raised. While the visit begins innocently (and awkwardly) enough, things begin to unravel when the whole town finds out that Woody is a soon-to-be millionaire. Once forgotten debts and favors now need to be reconciled with cold, hard cash. And when David steps in to say that Woody hasn't really won anything no one buys it. All this green is making them see red.

It's quite possible that the slow-burn nature of the film may choke the life out of it for some of you, I was interested in Woody's story. Like the Nebraska scenery surrounding him, everything seems dull, flat and lifeless. But upon closer inspection a quiet beauty emerges. Woody is a mess, undoubtedly, but he's trying to do right for his family (in the face of increasing hostility, no less). I can respect that, even if it's too little too late  A defeated old man trying to do something foolish may not be much, but it's something.

Also not much, are the Yays and Boos for Nebraska. Like an annoyingly charming elderly couple, these two walk around all day bickering about the smallest details of something incredibly insignificant. Oh shit. I think I just realized something about myself.


  • June Squibb. Her role as the angry matriarch in the Grant family is routinely hysterical. She has seen too much to take anyone's bullshit. Especially Woody's.
  • Looking for Dad's teeth. Sure, that sounds pretty disgusting, but the time spent on the railroad tracks was actually pretty funny.
  • Even though it angered me for the most part, the steadfast clueless/indifference that Woody exudes is at least good for a laugh or two. When asked if he ever loved his wife, Woody shrugs and drop this factual response: Never came up.
  • Well, Dad, did you want to have kids? Did you and Mom talk it out, plan anything? I liked screwing.
  • Stacy Keach! His character is a rotten bastard, sure, but I love seeing this guy. He's always a badass. Even when singing Elvis' In the Ghetto at the buffet in town. 
  • It was her Oscar clip, but they left out at least three minutes of pure gravy of Mom visiting the cemetery. I ain't fiddling with no cow titties.
  • Ms. Nagy, pictured above. This woman provides not only a nice window into the past for David (and us), but she also is a nice balance to the relentless venom that their mother brings to the table. And she was classy, too. She wouldn't let Woody round the bases.
  • As much as you think that Kate (Woody's wife) hates him, I almost clapped when she took everyone to task for trying to snatch their share of his imaginary fortune. You can all just go f--k yourselves.
  • The heist. I knew how it was going to end, but it was still very, very funny. Ross' face after the job was priceless. Have you ever known us to steal machinery before?
  • The end. We all deserve one last drive down Locust Street.
  • And finally, even though Bruce Dern gave a Hell of a performance, let's put our hands together for the unsung Will Forte. Sure, he's kind of stuck on moderately bummed for the duration of the film, but when he finally steps up for his Dad there was a level of emotion that surprised me. Same goes for the last ten minutes of the movie, too. Very well done, MacGruber.
  • The customers at David's work. Ja-neese, you bitch.
  • Poor David, not only does work suck, but his love life doesn't seem too enviable either.
  • Woody, what the Hell? Dude's kind of harsh on ol' Mt. Rushmore, no? If I remember correctly, there was some sweet blogathon based in that wasn't there?
  • Bart and Cole. These guys are your typical a-hole family members that dwell on little shit because they've got nothing else going on. Well, except sexually assaulting women and robbing old men. F--kers.
  • How many times have you visited family and been stuck watching shitty TV for hours? Is infinity a number?
  • Ed Pegrem (Keach) is a rotten a-hole. This guy hides how ruthless he is behind the biggest shit-eating grin I've ever seen. Good thing he gets his, after his little stunt in the bar.
  • Woody, I like you, well, a little bit...but if you say I don't remember or it doesn't matter one more time, I might cut in front of Father Time and murder you myself.
  • The end, as much as it broke my heart, also infuriated me. Proof? He just believes stuff that people tell him = sadness. That's too bad = rage.
  • And finally, as I get older, I'm realizing how we all talk about the losses suffered by our elderly relatives as if it's no big deal. As if it's okay for casual conversation. Oh, his brother died when he was two. Then we eat lunch or read Highlights. 
Let's say, in life, you have one shitty day a month. Just one. Let's say you live to be eighty years old. That's twelve a year, times eighty, which equals (calculator noises)...960. That's almost three full years of bullshit you've endured. My point? We should respect old people and what they've gone through.

Even if you only live to be 50.


  1. You have me interested at least. This looked like the most uninterested film to come out last year and I was actually debating earlier today on just skipping it altogether.

    But maybe I'll rent it now.

    1. I don't know. I liked it, I did, but I would understand anyone who felt otherwise. Let me know if you end up seeing it.

      Oh, I almost say this theatrically, which would have likely skewed my opinion of it. At Redbox for a buck and a half? Seemed like a good deal.

  2. I wasn't a big fan of the movie - Payne's films are just not my thing, Descendants almost put me into a coma and that's quite an achievement when the film stars Clooney. But I'm with you on Forte - he was really good. Even after all those seasons I still remember when he was in one episode of Parks and Rec as the dude who wanted to put Twilight in a time capsule. He is just so lovable in almost everything I saw him in and that is something not often seen in movies.

    1. If you didn't like The Descendants, I can't believe you would even give this one a chance. It's commendable you even bothered.

      That said, I still liked it. Forte is the man, indeed. Maybe I can track down that episode of Parks and Rec. Sounds awesome.