Alexander Payne is one of those directors whose movies I view with trepidation. I enjoyed the quirky black comedy of Election and, of course, Sideways was a lot of fun, but I had a hard time sitting through About Schmidt and the Descendants and since he’s always well reviewed, it’s impossible to glean from that whether I’m going to like any given film.
What’s more, having seen it, I’m not sure I can describe whether anyone else is going to like this film, either. @Sky_Bluez, for example, hated it. Not an identifiable character in the lot, she fairly points out. But you know what?
I liked it. I ended up liking it a lot, as did The Boy.
I started out with a sense of dread, as we see ancient Bruce Dern hobbling along the highway, meet his rather bitchy wife—see my Descendants review for Payne and women commentary—and his two sons, one of whom is a news reader (this is out in Billings, pop 162,000), while the other (our hero) sells audio equipment.
Slow-paced and unpleasant, with a lot of bitterness and dysfunction.
Or so it starts.
As it turns out Woody (Dern) thinks he’s won one of those magazine sweepstakes, so he’s determined to go to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his million dollars. But he can’t drive, so he’s going to walk, I guess. He never gets very far. His wife, Kate (June Squibb, The Man Who Shook The Hand Of Vincente Fernandez) and son Ross (Bob Odenkirk, “Mr. Show With Bob and David”) want to put him in a home, though it’s far from apparent that there’s anything seriously wrong with Woody. He might be hard of hearing, and he surely isn’t paying much attention, but there’s not a lot worth paying attention to.
Finally, his other son, David (Will Forte, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2) decides to take him to Lincoln in the hopes it will get the idea out of his head.
Road trip. Also, and sort of melancholy, a buddy picture, as we learn how little David knows about his dad.
They end up taking a side trip to the small town Kate and Woody came from, and get glimpses of the dramas that played out 60 years earlier. Slowly, we begin to learn about these old people as something more than stereotypes. While not exactly nice people, they demonstrate some positive traits, and even human decency.
They come together as a family. And Ross, who is kind of a loser at the beginning of the movie, seems like he might make some positive changes in his life by the end.
I don’t know. It won me over. And not just a little. I was rooting for our guys at the end. It’s low-key and some would say slow-paced, but I didn’t get bored. The scenery shots feel less like pacing than a lot of other films we’ve seen this year.
Rance Howard (Ron’s dad) is in it. Stacy Keach, too. He looks pretty good. (I was worried.) Not a lot of big names.
Gorgeous cinematography. The West in black-and-white. Tough to miss with that.
Can’t see it making its money back at the BO. Would be cautious in recommending. But really liked.