Legacy is important to Alexander Payne. Election's Matthew Broderick shudders at what it would mean if someone like Reece Witherspoon became class president; Jack Nicholson advises his daughter to not to make the same mistake he did and marry the wrong person in About Schmidt; Sideways has writer Paul Giamatti desperate to publish that novel; and George Clooney learns that roots and history is important in The Descendants. Nebraska is simply another way to explore the same theme.
He doesn't come out and say it at first but Bruce Dern's ageing alcoholic is disappointed with his life and regrets that he has nothing to pass on to son Will Forte. So when he receives a sweepstakes letter saying he's won one million dollars he refuses to believe it's a scam. Dern sets off for Nebraska to cash in on his prize and, despite his mother's (Squibb) protests, Forte reluctantly offers to drive his grouchy father the distance.
The poster might suggest something darker and broodier but Nebraska is as light and soft as Payne's (overrated) The Descendants. Yes, it's got disappointment and regret pumping through it - it is a Payne movie - but we're in The Straight Story territory here: old coot is determined to put things right before time runs out in a charming, well-meaning comedy-drama.
Payne shoots in B&W but to emphasise the lifeless surroundings - miles and miles of flat fields and dull buildings - it's not even a pretty B&W but a drab, grey B&W. Then there's the plodding music and the measured pace - Forte's overweight loser cousins laugh at his slow progress across the Midwest - but it all just clicks. Some of that is down to Bob Nelson's subtle writing and some of it is down to the cast.
Like Fargo, the supporting roles go to actors who look like normal folk from the area, which give the small, sleepy Midwest towns a lived in feel. Will Forte isn't asked to stretch beyond his comic abilities much (Bryan Cranston was once considered) but the quiet introspective Dern and the rude loudmouth Squibb (who also played the underappreciated wife in About Schmidt) make a wonderful duo. She again is at the hub of another theme common to Payne's films - infidelity.
Slow but charming and funny, Nebraska is a real grower.