Tuesday, December 31, 2013


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.


  1. Was thinking Blake, after our discussion of Inside Llewyn Davis, if I were to think of this film as life through the son David's eyes, then maybe I could have liked it a little more. In that case, David the loser, is trying to justify and blame his loserness on all the stupid ugly people in his life (the poor me syndrome). If that's how Payne meant it, then it's kind of brilliant. But when I watched it, I had the feeling that Payne thinks of all rural people as ugly, fat, creepy, stupid hicks.

    As I had mentioned to you, I had a liberal delight in the idea of seeing it, with not knowing of the film and only having heard my brief description of it being "disrespectful to rural people" . I get guarded and defensive about liberal contempt for rural and religious people. It's not because I'm rural or religious, but because I admire many people who are one or the other or both.

    When I saw this in the theater, there was quite a bit of laughter and people seemed to really enjoy it, including my husband. It probably has more wide appeal than either of us think. The critics surely love it.

    As I had said, I did love the cinematography and I also did love the part about David coming to understand his father better. Now, if I just change my mindset to it being David's self preserving point of view, rather than Payne's liberal social commentary, then I can think of it as a great film. It's amazing how a different perspective, and expectations can make all the difference in the world!

  2. That's really interesting, Sue, because I saw it pretty much devoid of social commentary per se. To me it was kind of like, "OK, here are these 'types' and we all have prejudices about these types, but we're not seeing the whole story."

    As it turns out Woody and Kate had a pretty interesting backstory and full life, and then, when we meet Kate's rival for Woody's affection, she had a pretty full and interesting life, too.

    And then, when they're all confronting each other at the movie's climax, you realize they =all= have backstories, just like we all do, and maybe there's something to not treating people based on superficial impressions.

    That's how I saw it, and took it. Even the whole "jerky loser alcoholic father" thing. I don't think it was even clear that he was an alcoholic. Just...sorta...disappointed in people.

    1. They were all disappointed in everyone and they were all disappointing really. No one seemed very happy with the way their life turned out.

      But yeah, the whole back story thing is always relevant to why we are the way we are.

  3. I love Bruce Dern and will see it, even if you folks are bumming me out, man!!


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