Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2013. Paramount Vantage, FilmNation Entertainment, Blue Lake Media Fund, Echo Lake Entertainment, Bona Fide Productions, Paramount Pictures. Screenplay by Bob Nelson. Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael. Produced by Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa. Music by Mark Orton. Production Design by J. Dennis Washington. Costume Design by Wendy Chuck. Film Editing by Kevin Tent. Academy Awards 2013. American Film Institute 2013. Cannes Film Festival 2013. Golden Globe Awards 2013. Independent Spirit Awards 2013. Washington Film Critics Awards 2013.
Will Forte has a dull job as an electronic salesman, is lonely since his break-up with his girlfriend and marks time by checking up on his aging parents whenever he can. His father (Bruce Dern, in a career-reviving performance) insists that a letter he has received in the mail (a fictional version of a Publisher’s Clearing House offer) is a winning voucher for a million dollars and wants to travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to claim it. His mother (June Squibb, who is hysterically funny every time she opens her mouth) is sick and tired of her increasingly demented husband’s wandering off into the streets of their Montana town, where police have to pick him up and return him safely home. On a whim and in need of a break from the mundane nature of his existence, Forte decides to indulge his father in a road trip, and somehow a two-day trip becomes a mountain of misunderstandings and conflicts when others get wind that Dern has hit the jackpot. Stopping in the old man’s hometown means revisiting friends of the past who get wind of our aged hero’s good luck and bust out a whole slew of reactions, from genuine congratulations to greedy demands, not the least of which come from family members with whom he has not been close in years. Payne brings his usual perfect balance between brittle satire and warm humanity to this tale of family connections, his first film with a screenplay that he has not written (though you won’t be able to tell). Superb casting and gorgeously bleak monochrome photography of the Midwest make for a terrific experience in character study, lorded over by Dern’s exceptional presence: you never know how particularly lost he is in his own fog, but you trust him to punctuate his every scene with a veteran actor’s assured sense of deadpan timing. Squibb’s mouthy, critical wife has an outstanding moment where she shows the other side of her relationship to her husband at a family function, one of the film’s many highlights. Payne indulgences himself a little too much in a pat-happy ending, but by the time you’ve fallen so deeply in love with these characters, you’ll want to give them their moment too: the parade of fascinating faces and moments of genuine love and warmth with very little manipulation make it a winner.