Nebraska


I grow weary of American films.  The promotional apparatus is such, though, that I continue to go. Never do the movies live up to the hype – this one touts a Bruce Willis tour de force but the hair is true to the advertisements. Seldom do the films capture the intensity of the trailers. Sometimes, though, they deliver a modicum of artistic (always cinematographic, which is always well done) skill and storytelling art.

With notable exceptions Nebraska is one of the last group, a film that develops strong theme, a degree of social complexity, and clear tale-telling.

I suppose the Baby Boomers are the target audience. If the question posed is how does one develop dignity in old age, though, it remains unanswered. Like too many American films it is an outside story. Who cares if Bruce Willis combs his hair? Or if he laces his boots, uses toilets, zips a jacket or listens attentively to anyone else. Hey, he has his pension and can, like more than a few Americans, do what the hell he pleases. What he pleases, unfortunately, is not much but obsessive.  He is iconic of what is wrong with American society: self-centered, entitled, devil-may-care, and rough. The tender moments are few here and belong mostly the his caring but socially inept younger son.

And what does this younger son do? What any caring American, especially at Christmas time, would do, buy expensive gifts to solve Dad’s problems. It does show respectful attention, surely, but is that what we are about? Just give me a truck and a compressor, and I will be all right.

What is missing from this movie is internal complexity.  Most everything is on the outside. Come on old man care about your sons. Show some interest in life. Take that fire-plug of a wife out to dinner and, for Christ’s sake, comb your hair. It is surprising what a little self-caring and grooming can do for relationships. If I were her, I’d be barking at you too.

The premise, I like. There was just too much repetition: too much medical attention, too many brothers, too many watching TV shots, too many shuffling-down-the-highway events.  The truth of the matter is that families whose senior members start hoofing it to far off places along highways usually place the wanderer in a home. The confusion on this point is tedious and stupid.

Jane Squibb gives decent support. But the role, again, has little understandable internal development. Mom (Squibb) repeats, too often, “I can’t stand it anymore.” Then she stands it more.  Mid-plot she turns into a family historian. I don’t know about you, but I’m with her son; I don’t need to know this, Mom. Too much information.  Her tender moment comes as she brushes her husband’s wispy hair back. It takes two seconds.  Lucky he is oblivious, asleep in a hospital bed. So much tenderness might give him the wrong idea!

Forte’s younger son character expresses  inept social skills and pathetic efforts at communication. Spineless, under-employed, plagued by indecision, he is everything mom and dad are not. He is balanced with is soulless, ambitious brother who barely has time to spend outside his TV career. The two sons, perhaps, are emblematic of the film itself, comic but shallow, appropriately shot in black and white.

Don’t get me wrong. The film was fun, but, please, give me something besides one-liners and comic situations to build a story.

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