This American drama, shot in black and white, has six Oscar nominations to its credit, including nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Supporting Actress.
Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is a fragile, cantankerous 77-year-old man and is found by his son, David (Will Forte), walking along a busy highway on his way to Lincoln, Nebraska. Woody tells his son that he needs to go to Lincoln to collect $1 million in a magazine sweepstake competition that he thinks he has won. Woody has a letter in hand from a Lincoln marketing company, but doesn't trust the mail system with a written reply.
David informs his father that the letter is a scam, but Woody 'just believes stuff that people tell him.' Woody annoys everyone, including his long-suffering, acerbic wife, Kate (June Squibb) by insisting that he has to collect the money personally. He keeps on trying to travel all the way to Lincoln, and, in desperation, David decides to drive his father to collect the promised reward.
Woody has a fall in a motel room on the way and they stop off in Hawthorne, Nebraska, which is Woody's home town. Word spreads fast in Hawthorne that Woody is about to become rich, despite his son's entreaties to the contrary.
In interactions with townspeople and family, things begin to emerge about Woody's life that his son didn't know. David learns, for instance, that his father was unfaithful to his mother before he was born, and that Woody accumulated a series of debts to many people in the town, including Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), his ex-business partner. Upset at his unpaid debt, Ed humiliates Woody by publicly revealing the scam to which he has fallen victim.
Arriving in Lincoln, Woody collects no money at all from the agency that duped him, only a hat marked 'prize winner' for him to wear. David returns to Hawthorne to help his father regain his pride, and he and Woody both drive out of town to go back home, united more strongly than they were at the start of their journey because of their time together as father and son.
This is a road movie that develops forcefully and effectively into a very human and gentle tale about family-life in grass roots America. It is a film about discovery both at a personal and social level, and is directed very insightfully by Alexander Payne, who gave us Sideways (2004). The film has many wonderful, comically inspired scenes built around trivia and small talk, that marvellously capture human lives that are wasting away.
- Peter Sheehan, ACOFB
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, and Stacy Keach. Directed by Alexander Payne. Rated M (Coarse language and sexual references). 115 min.