Early reviews position Alexander Payne's 'Nebraska' as Oscar contender - Omaha.com
go logo
article photo
article photo
From left, actors Will Forte, June Squibb, director Alexander Payne and actress Angela McEwan leave after the screening of Blue Is The Warmest Colour at the 66th international film festival, in Cannes, France, on Thursday.(FRANCOIS MORI / AP PHOTO)


Early reviews position Alexander Payne's 'Nebraska' as Oscar contender
By Bob Fischbach
World-Herald Staff Writer

The premiere of Alexander Payne’s new movie “Nebraska” drew a prolonged and rousing standing ovation Thursday at the Cannes Film Festival in France. Reviews from key critics were strong, if occasionally qualified, positioning the movie as a possible Oscar contender next fall.

The Hollywood Reporter called “Nebraska” a “bittersweet father-son road trip through an emotionally (and) economically parched homeland” and said the movie’s stars, Bruce Dern and Will Forte, “got a bevy of bravos for their performances” from the Cannes audience.

Walking the red carpet at the premiere were Cannes jury members Ang Lee and Nicole Kidman (prizes will be awarded Sunday), along with director Jane Campion, model Heidi Klum and actor Richard Dreyfuss. Actress Laura Dern, who starred in Payne’s first movie, “Citizen Ruth,” accompanied her father to the premiere.

Actresses June Squibb and Angela McEwan were also present, drawing raves for their character acting in “Nebraska.”

Payne, an Omaha native, shot the movie mostly in small towns near Norfolk, Neb., last October and November. It’s his sixth movie, and his fourth shot primarily in his home state.

Here are excerpts from commentary posted after the premiere:

Manohla Dargis, The New York Times: "Mr. Payne takes a bit too long to get the movie into gear, but eventually David (Forte) and Woody (Dern) end up in a Nebraska town where they endure a sometimes funny, sometimes painful reunion with relatives and old friends.

"Shooting in black and white that is as simple, unfussy and unbeautiful as the modest homes in the movie, Mr. Payne draws an emotionally vivid, insistently unsentimentalized portrait of America and forgotten men. ...

"Payne maintains an amused ironic distance from his characters that may feel as if he’s condescending to them but is more truly an acknowledgment of life’s absurdity.”

Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times: “The impressive ‘Nebraska’ ... joins tart-tongued screwball comedy with unexpected poignancy and warmth to remarkable effect. Even more remarkable, given how good the script (by Bob Nelson) is, is the fact that Payne has been sitting on the project for nine years. ...

“(The movie) has some funny and pointed things to say about family, memory and getting old. ...

“Certain to make a strong impression is June Squibb, who plays Woody’s wife, Kate, an acerbic, exasperated woman who never says anything nicer to anyone than ‘You dumb cluck.’”

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: “A strong sense of a vanishing past holds sway over an illusory future in ‘Nebraska,’ Alexander Payne’s wryly poignant and potent comic drama about the bereft state of things in America’s oft-vaunted heartland. Echoing the director’s most recent film, ‘The Descendants,’ in its preoccupation with generational issues within families, how the smell of money contaminates the behavior of friends and relatives and the way Wasps hide and disclose secrets, this is nonetheless a more melancholy, less boisterous work.”

Scott Foundas, Variety: “Just as ‘The Last Picture Show’ was a movie made in the 1970s about the end of ’50s-era innocence, ‘Nebraska’ feels, despite its present-day setting, like a eulogy for a bygone America (and American Cinema), from the casting of New Hollywood fixtures Dern and Stacy Keach to its many windswept vistas of a vital agro-industrial heartland outsourced into irrelevance. ... Payne’s sixth feature is another low-concept, finely-etched study of flawed characters stuck in life’s well-worn grooves. ...

“Dern is simply marvelous in a role the director reportedly first offered to Gene Hackman, but which is all the richer for being played by someone who was never as big of a star. ... He conveys the full measure of a man who has fallen short of his own expectations.”

Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly: "The images — of highways and farms, of streets with shuttered stores, of tacky night-glowing bars and even tackier homes — are, I must say, breathtaking in a clean, spare way. If you’re going to shoot a movie in black and white ... then you’d better believe this is the way to do it: by making the images look like Ansel Adams collaborated with Diane Arbus and Edward Hopper.

“Is Payne, working from a script by Bob Nelson, mocking these people? Or does he have affection for them? Well, both. And probably more affection than mockery. ...

“‘Nebraska is a nice movie, and it goes through its paces in that patented Alexander Payne mode of acerbically touching homespun quirkiness. But at least a part of me is tempted to replace the word ‘mode’ with ‘formula.’”

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian: “Their story is laced with pathos, comedy and regret, recalling the classic indie cinema of Hal Ashby and Bob Rafelson. It is shot with almost Amish austerity in monochrome, which gives a wintry, end-of-the-world drear to that homely roadside Americana that Payne loves to pick out with his camera. ‘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.”

Robbie Collin, The Telegraph: “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. ... This is a resounding return to form for Payne: There are moments that recall his earlier road movies ‘About Schmidt’ and ‘Sideways,’ but it has a wistful, shuffling, grizzly-bearish rhythm all of its own.”

Eric Kohn, Indiewire: "Alexander Payne’s movies walk a fine line between cruel satire and emotional truth, but in ‘Nebraska,’ it’s particularly hard to discern which is which. The black-and-white road trip dramedy might be his least essential work, but it’s also notably distinct from the rest of it. ... It’s a sad, thoughtful depiction of Midwestern eccentrics regretting the past and growing bored of the present, ideas that Payne regards with gentle humor and pathos but also something of a shrug.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1269, bob.fischbach@owh.com

SEE ALSO: In Payne's 'Nebraska,' mom gets insider's view on film shoot

Contact the writer: Bob Fischbach

bob.fischbach@owh.com    |   402-444-1269

Bob reviews movies and local theater productions and writes stories about those topics, as well.

Read more stories by Bob

Contact the Omaha World-Herald newsroom

Copyright ©2014 Omaha World-Herald®. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, displayed or redistributed for any purpose without permission from the Omaha World-Herald.

Latest Stories

UNL students make dancing robot drones
UNL students make dancing robot drones

The idea is to converge disciplines without literally colliding on stage

Hanging out with the Omaha Rollergirls before a big match
Hanging out with the Omaha Rollergirls before a big match

When was the last time you took in some live, rough and rowdy female roller derby? Yeah, I figured it’s been awhile.

For two full weeks, Omaha venues will overflow with indie rock shows
For two full weeks, Omaha venues will overflow with indie rock shows

Gather your tickets, call in late to work, and get yourself to the club. For the next couple of weeks, a surprising number of awesome indie rock shows hit Omaha venues. We're already wondering how we're gonna get enough sleep.

Dining notes: More Easter dining specials
Dining notes: More Easter dining specials

Two Midtown Crossing restaurants have Easter specials.

Nightlife notes: Storz beer is being served again
Nightlife notes: Storz beer is being served again

Storz Triumph Lager is back on the market after a brief hiatus.

A baseball player was (falsely) convinced a teammate was deaf
A baseball player was (falsely) convinced a teammate was deaf

When it was it was finally revealed to Jeff Francoeur that Jorge Reyes wasn’t deaf, everyone had some good laughs.

Canada’s Tokyo Police Club kept on being loud
Canada’s Tokyo Police Club kept on being loud

Grooves are the key to good music. That’s the way Tokyo Police Club sees it, and that’s what they brought on their four-years-in-the-making album, “Forcefield.”

Live music calendar

A roundup of live music events in the Omaha area.

Durham Museum’s ‘1968’ exhibit boasts fashions worn by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin
Durham Museum’s ‘1968’ exhibit boasts fashions worn by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin

His famous purple felt suit jacket hangs just above his brown leather boots, next to his brown, fringed leather vest and the Sunburst Stratocaster Fender guitar.

Clever French farce will take viewers back

Boeing, Boeing
What: Stage comedy
Where: Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St., Hawks Mainstage
When: Friday through May 11. Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Exception: No performance Easter Sunday.
Tickets: $35 adults, $21 students
Information: 402-553-0800 or omahaplayhouse.com
* * *
It’s the most performed French play in the world. Or so says the Guinness Book of Records.

Movies Opening this week

Movie showtimes and theater listings

Read this!


Tonight in Prime Time
© 2014 Omaha World-Herald. All rights reserved