Cast and crew of Nebrraska
Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - Georges Biard

A Very Slow Journey

We sat down with anticipation to watch Nebraska, our newest Redbox film.  My girlfriend is on a rampage for us to watch all the Oscar nominated flicks prior to the awards show.  It’s been fun so far, each of the movies has been great up until we tried to view Nebraska.  The movie was too slow for me to wade through on a Friday night.  I could probably watch the entire movie as afternoon fare or maybe any other night, but I’m often tired on Friday evening after the work week and I need to be engrossed in a film in order to watch the whole thing.

My Movie Viewing

Film Class

I admit to a prejudice against black and white flicks.  If a movie is filmed in black and white that tells me that it’s probably artsy and slow.  The filmmaker is likely attempting to make the film fit a certain mood and make it thought provoking.  Well, I prefer to be entertained withOrson Welles in 1937Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - Carl Van Vechten movies.  I took a film study course in college and learned about movie classics.  We watched Orson Welles' Citizen Kane as our first film.  I appreciated the storytelling and enjoyed the film.  The movie is truly a classic. 

The professor started to lose me on Throne of Blood, which is Akira Kurosawa’s movie retelling of Macbeth.[1]  First off, I’m not a fan of subtitles.  I’d rather watch and listen instead of read in movie watching.  Unfortunately for me, that preference does remove a wide swatch of films from my film viewing list.  Throne of Blood builds to a conclusion in which the main character is killed in a barrage of arrows.  There were many, many arrows.  In fact, there were so many arrows it reminded us of a cartoon.  Something like an old Quick Draw McGraw cartoon where a character gets smothered in arrows.  The professor did not care for our laughter at the end of the movie.  He criticized our response in his next lecture, although some critics do acknowledge the absurdity of the ending.[2]

The Watch Test

This particular prof was a stereotypical academic.  He wore a beret and sometimes sporting a Bruce DernCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Georges Biardscarf in warm weather.  Smoking indoors was still allowed, so he would light up a cigarette at
the start of each lecture and would wave it around as he spoke.  Being generally bored, we would keep track of how many drags he would actually take on the cigarette.  He would generally average about three.

Having laid out my movie watching prejudices, I’ll tell you my true test for a film.  My hard line test is whether or not I look at my watch.  If I’m looking at my watch in the first half hour it means I’m trying to calculate how much longer the film is going to last.  If I’m doing that calculation, I’m bored and more concerned about an exit strategy than actually viewing the film.  Accordingly, I was checking out my watch early and often with Nebraska.

I Need to Like a Character or Some Aspect of the Story Early in the Film

Something in the movie needs to be compelling to me to keep watching.  The movie has to have at least some interesting aspect of the story line to be watchable or have a character that is enough of a protagonist that I want to see them succeed or overcome story obstacles.  For me, Nebraska lacked both of those.

The Story Line

The movie begins with the Billings, Montana police tracking down David Grant, played by Will Forte, in order to take him back to the station to collect his father.  His dad, Woody Grant, is portrayed by Bruce Dern.  Woody has escaped the family home in order to walk to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect a million dollar prize from a sweepstake letter.  Of course, this is one of those fake letters and Woody hasn’t won anything, but in his alcohol enveloped brain he thinks the jackpot is his to claim.

David takes Woody home to his ranting mother Kate, played by June Squibb.  From the Will ForteCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - Rachel Sklar at scene with Kate, I could understand Woody’s need to get out of the house by any means possible.  I think I would last about five minutes with her.  I might have started walking if I received a letter about a $20 jackpot.  Kate rants on about the need to put Woody in a home because he can’t be controlled any longer.

The meat of the story is that David eventually relents and decides to drive Woody to Lincoln to let him see for himself that the prize isn’t real.  The trip is delayed after Woody takes a drunken tumble and has to spend some time in the hospital.  They end up diverting their journey by going to Hawthorne, Nebraska where Woody previously owned an auto repair shop.  In Hawthorne, Woody and David confront the past.

Life Stinks, Then You Die

The overall theme of the film up to that point seemed to me to follow “life stinks, then you die.”  If I really want to follow that theme I can watch the eleven o’clock news every evening with the recitation of who got shot that day.  The dreary nature of the black and white cinematography makes the feeling even more stark and real.  The problem for me in viewing this was that David was too bland to care about and Woody too grumpy.  Neither the characters’ nor the story was compelling enough to wade through further viewing.

I did watch the remainder of the film this morning and it does have some measure of redemption at the end.  David develops a greater understanding of his father and Woody has his moment of triumph.  That being said, the understanding and the triumph were tempered by the slogging nature of the production.  I didn’t have the feeling for the characters that would otherwise be the case in a more entertaining film.  I was left selfishly feeling, what about me?  You guys had me watch all this dreariness for too long.  Shouldn’t I get some sort of reward?

Alas, I didn’t get the jackpot either.  At least I wasn’t expecting one, unlike Woody.

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