Sunday, April 13, 2014

Let's Talk Nebraska

Last weekend, the hubby and I rented the Oscar-nominated film Nebraska. I'd seen a little bit about it before Oscar season broke out into full swing. I decided I really wanted to watch it for a couple of reasons: 1) I like just about everything director Alexander Payne has put out there (Hello? Sideways or About Schmidt, anyone!), 2) I'm from the Midwest, from a town very similar to the one depicted in Nebraska (only smaller, if you can imagine that) and I went to college in Nebraska, and 3) I just don't think the modern-day Midwest gets highlighted enough in films.

When I first heard about the film, it was being discussed among a group of friends. One woman in the group, who spent a majority of her life living in the actual state of Nebraska, vehemently denounced the movie altogether. She had no intention of ever seeing the film. At first, I thought it might be because of the film rating (R, for language), but then after watching Nebraska I think it was for a more specific reason. I think she viewed Nebraska as akin to the Holy Land with only hard-working saints living there. In other words, she believed that Nebraska would be portrayed poorly.

Not so, my friends!

I'd have to say I loved every minute of it because, in my opinion, Payne hit the nail on the head when it comes to families such as the one portrayed in Nebraska. Payne, himself, is from Nebraska, so who better to do the storyline justice than he.

Here's a little rundown on what goes on in the film:

Woody Grant, an aging alcoholic and perhaps suffering from early Alzheimer's, sets out almost weekly to claim his million dollars waiting for him in Lincoln, Nebraska. Only problems are that he can't drive and he lives in Montana. To appease his father, even though he knows the "sweepstakes" is a scam, Woody's estranged son David agrees to drive him down to Lincoln. Along the way, they get caught up with family in Hawthorne, Nebraska, where David learns more about his father than in all the years when he was growing up.

It's a sad, yet bittersweet story about family. Watching it, you realize that there were so many problems lying just below the surface of this family, waiting to come to light when the time was right. Woody's a man with long-suppressed demons, but it's David's connection to his father that twists, turns, and in the end grows into a final act of love. Even if it only means taking a drive down the center of town. Holding a lifelong grudge because someone is unwilling to sacrifice for you, only hurts you. Letting go and finally sacrificing for that other individual without accepting payment in return is sometimes the one thing you have to do. This is what David comes to realize about his father.

You may have watched Nebraska and all the while were asking yourself, "Do people really live and act like this?" The short answer is yes. Let me point out a few things about Woody and David's family that was readily recognizable with my own:

Woody and David searching for that "borrowed" tool.

  • Old men really do sit around talking about random things, like a car one of them owned once upon a time. I've been to those family reunions and have heard those conversations. And I've been down to the local diner/convenience store, which is filled with old men discussing the most random things.
  • There is the occasional relative who likes to sit alongside the road in the evenings and watch none of the traffic that goes by. Ours was, and still is, the front porch for our family. Usually while shelling peas or pitting cherries. Believe me, not much happens on my parents' street back home.
  • People really do go and pay respects in cemeteries even if no one has recently died. It's just what you do. I still do it when I go back for a visit. We'll be driving down a country road somewhere and my mother will say, "Do you know so-and-so is buried there? Let's stop by." And the next thing I know I'm standing over the grave of some unknown great aunt I never knew I had. My mother tells me her life story and introduces us like it's about time we met, probably hoping we could have coffee and bologna and butter sandwiches with the lady.
  • There's always a black sheep in the family, and that black sheep still usually lives at home (or thereabouts) and everyone acts like the sexual assault/robbery/drug bust never happened. Although, I must say my mother has warned us over the years of who to steer clear.
  • Everyone pretty much drives an American-made car. Here's why: Where I grew up, the only local dealerships were Ford and GM. If you wanted any other type of vehicle you had to go to the city, sixty miles away. No local mechanic really worked on foreign cars, so if your city-bought car broke down, guess how far you'd have to drive to get it fixed?
  • Finally, you'd be surprised at the brazenness of neighbors if you weren't used to it. The guy across the street could borrow your lawnmower, never return it, and he'd still come over all the time to talk to you. It goes the other way, too. Vegetables tend to get left quite often on doorsteps. It's like Mayday all summer long. I should know. My parents are one of those neighborly donators. 
Like anyplace in America, the Midwest has stories to tell, and they can be pretty darn good at times. I recommend seeing Nebraska if you haven't already. It's a simple storyline, but a very telling and touching one.

P.S. It really is in black and white.


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On another note, we just wanted to announce that for the third year in a row The Writing Sisterhood has received first place in the New Mexico Press Women Awards for best informational blog in the state of New Mexico! We're thrilled to have this award! If you'd like to check out any of the winning entries, feel free to do so:

12 comments:

  1. We watched this movie last month, and absolutely loved it. My husband was laughing at me, though, because I kept putting my hands over my face and going "ohgodohgodohgod" whenever the two parents interacted — WAY too close to home!

    I did not grow up in the midwest, but I did grow up in a small town and so many things rang true. Even my husband's Palestinian-village family stories have some real overlap: village life is the same the world over. I imagine the only kinds of people who might not be able to relate are people who've only ever lived in cities. (And even then, cities tend to form smaller, village-like communities.)

    Nebraska is one of the best, truest, most creative films I've seen in years. A refreshing break from the standard Hollywood fare. I'm so glad you liked it too, MM.

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    1. I definitely agree on the cringeworthy nature of this film! I felt for sure they must have rounded up some of my extended family for this one.

      I like the idea of village-like communities who have their own way of understanding life. It's very true when it comes to small towns. There's just something different, but not in a bad way. And sometimes it's hard to understand why life is like that. My husband has gone back several times with me to where I grew up and, at times, has a hard time reconciling who I am now with the world I came from. But then that small town girl comes out from time to time, and, yeah, he's gets it!

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  2. Hello Mary Mary. I've seen this film advertised and meant to see it. So now I must rent it out. It looked very heart-warming in places. Thanks for the review!

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    1. Glad you liked the review, Denise! Now go out and rent it! :)

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  3. I lived in small town in Nebraska for twelve years, but it wasn't my favorite place to be. It was hard moving from a big city to a small rural town. Never did adjust very well to the quiet. But I do want to see this film. I've watched a few clips from it and it looks good.

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    1. Um, yeah, small towns can be difficult places to be. Mainly because not much happens there. It's like one character says in the film about why Woody drank so much. There was nothing else to do back then! Since you have lived in small town Nebraska, I'm sure you'll appreciate the film!

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  4. We are avid road watchers... living in a group of four cottages on a single track farm road! Garden tools and vegetables are passed around freely. Small community behaviour is very recognisable :-)

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    1. Ooo, another road watcher! There's something so calming about sitting out there and watching things happen, even if it's only the neighbor mowing his lawn.

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  5. Well, you just sold me. Nebraska sounds wonderful. Thanks for the review.

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    1. If you watch it, I hope you enjoy it!

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  6. Sounds very interesting! I just wish it was in color... I don't mind B&W in older films, but I don't care for it much when it's an artistic choice (on the other hand I LOVE B&W photographs). I'll watch it, though, because it sounds like a good story with engaging characters. i'll be back to comment further after i see it. BTW, I haven't forgotten 12 Years A Slave. We must watch it, sisters!

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    1. Yeah, I thought that too when I started watching this film. Strangely enough, the B&W aspect only lends to the desolation in the lives of the characters. (Have you ever seen Paper Moon? It feels very much the same way.) It feels much starker and real. And, yes, we better watch 12 Years a Slave!

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