Lottery scams are common; it’s usually easy to spot them. The promise of millions of dollars is enough to either bring out the best in people or the very worst. It would seem unlikely that a lottery scam letter would serve as a MacGuffin for one last adventure (of sorts) for an old man, but it did just that in Alexander Payne’s latest film Nebraska. This was a film I nearly missed out on, but I managed to catch it on the big screen recently and I’m glad I did. More than a couple of weeks after seeing it, the film still lingers in my mind. I find myself wondering what I would do if I won the lottery as well as how I would react if a friend or family member won.
Nebraska starts with Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) walking along a highway towards Lincoln, Nebraska, where he hopes to claim the one million dollars he thinks he’s just won. Woody is picked up by police and brought to jail, where he is later picked up by his youngest son David (Will Forte). David brings Woody home and tries to convince him that the letter notification is just part of a scam. After Woody attempts to walk to Nebraska again, the recently-single David decides to take a few days off from his unfulfilling job to embark on a road trip to Lincoln with his father, much to the dismay of his mother Kate (June Squibb). Along the way, they stop in Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, Nebraska to visit Woody’s brother Ray and some of their relatives. Their relatives are friendly and receptive of them until they discover why Woody and David are passing through (and that’s when they show their true colors).
The cast assembled for this film is phenomenal. Dern delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as an aging patriarch who’s looking to leave behind a legacy worth remembering. Forte, a former member of Saturday Night Live, delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as a man approaching middle age who re-evaluates his life as a result of his father’s insistence on taking a journey to Nebraska. Squibb is a likely shoo-in for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nod. She brings warmth and toughness as the matriarch who has to put up with her husband’s delusions of being a millionaire, and she’s got a lot of hilarious things to say. Bob Odenkirk is terrific as Ross, Woody oldest son and the only one in the family who’s had any kind of real success (he works at a local TV news station). Stacy Keach also pops up as Ed, Woody’s old friend and former business partner, who also reveals his true colors when he finds out what Woody and David are really doing in Hawthorne.
One thing I definitely took away from this film was to never underestimate Midwestern hospitality. It’s amazing how fast a person can go from warm and welcoming to vile and cruel, circling around one of their own like a vulture. When you help out an alcoholic relative, you pretty much know you’re not going to get back any money you give to him/her, which is why the money is a gift rather than a loan. But if that relative were to win the lottery years later, the gift all of a sudden becomes a loan and now everyone who “lent” money now wants their money back plus interest. Woody’s relatives find out about the lottery “win,” but despite David’s insistence on it being a scam, the relatives proceed to show how greedy they really are. I can only hope that vultures don’t start popping up around me if I ever win the lottery (which is why I wouldn’t tell anyone if I did ever win).