Director Alexander Payne has a thing for road movies (Sideways) and this is his most successful road movie yet.
Shot in grainy black and white, it’s an un-retouched, unglamorous look at growing old and all the indignities that brings.
A wonderfully confused and stroppy Bruce Dern plays Woody, a rapidly deteriorating OAP whose boozing has left him fragile and a bit senile. He’s convinced he has won first prize in a marketing scam and despite the best efforts of his cantankerous wife Kate (June Squibb) keeps escaping from his home in Billings, Montana intent on making the journey all the way to Nebraska to collect his winnings.
He is so adamant about it, in the end his son, David (Will Forte), decides to take him on the trip, visiting various old haunts and sites (such as Mount Rushmore) along the way.
The shenanigans and adventures that follow are not only a bit mad but also funny and a bit sad, as Kate and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) join the pair as they visit family and even meet up with some old friends and enemies, and through it all Woody never gives up his heartfelt conviction that he has won big-time.
That the antics of a bunch of such off-beat characters could be so enticing and enthralling is down to the superb acting of the whole cast and also a firm but gentle touch from Payne who never forces the pace of the film or tries to sugarcoat its downbeat nature. In fact, what could have been really depressing is handled with so much charm and grace the result is actually uplifting and life affirming and the scene of Woody driving slowly down the main street of his old town in a brand new pick-up truck in what appears to be a victory parade will make you want to punch the air and shout ‘yes!’
Bruce Dern deservedly won Best Actor at Cannes this year for his portrayal of Woody and it wouldn’t go amiss if his pitch perfect performance got an Oscar nod as well.