My reasons for preferring it are strictly personal: the small-town West is a milieu I know pretty well. I grew up around these folks, and this sort of landscape. In my adult years, I’ve driven the same roads many times. The only town mentioned in the movie that I haven’t been to is Hawthorne, Nebraska — and that’s because it doesn’t exist.
But enough about me. By now everyone knows the premise: Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a man wandering the edges of senility who mistakes a sweepstakes come-on for a million-dollar prize. His long-suffering son David (Will Forte) decides to drive his dad from Billings, Mont., to Lincoln, Neb., to claim the nonexistent winnings. He figures it’s probably his last chance to connect with a father he barely knows.
Sounds melancholy, and it is — but what’s surprising is how funny this film is, too. Along the way, David and Woody stop to visit relatives in their old hometown. When Woody mentions his million-dollar prize, the relatives believe it — as does Woody’s crafty former business partner (Stacey Keach). Nearly all of them figure that, dang it, they’ve always known Woody and should be entitled to some of his good luck. Some truly memorable scenes follow, during which David comes to realize the kind of life his father led.
This is a great movie. Maybe it will be a classic. Sometimes the use of black-and-white is a distracting affectation; here it suits the material precisely. The supporting players, with the exception of Keach and Forte, aren’t instantly recognizable and seem as if they just stepped out of the local IGA.
My only quibble today is with the Oscar nominations. While Dern was nominated for his able portrayal of a confused old coot, the most compelling performance comes from Will Forte, who has to register a gamut of emotions in nearly every scene. The photo above is from one scene where Forte (far right) silently reacts to a rambling, truly absurd conversation about cars. It’s hilarious and poignant at the same time. Kind of like the whole movie, I guess.
Anyway, this is one I’d watch again. I hope it wins some awards tonight. Too bad Will Forte won’t be getting one.