From a frequent Nebraska visitor: Alexander Payne gets it right


Thoroughly enjoyed Alexander Payne’s movie Nebraska, an affectionate, matter-of-fact, funny, respectful, honest and true-to-life depiction of the kind of small worn-out rural town in Nebraska (or Kansas, Iowa, and South Dakota) that I never dreamt I would know so well. But I do. (Witness the photo below of Kinsley, Kansas.)

I was worried the movie would be too bleak or depressing, in its black and white account of a mentally failing cranky old drunk who goes on a quixotic road trip from Montana to Nebraska with his long suffering sad sack son to collect a million dollars he mistakenly thinks he’s won through one of those bogus magazine sweepstakes. I also worried that the movie would ridicule the folks in these parts. But this movie wasn’t directed by the Coen Brothers, no snottiness here. it just tells it like it is. it feels dead-on, right and real.

Nor does the movie stoop to false sentiment or glorification of the place and people. There is greed and small mindedness and boorishness but also warmth and kindness. None of it flashy or effusive, of course. Payne captured the stark beauty of the treeless landscape, the quiet emptiness of small town Nebraska, the stoic solid nature of its residents, the lack of drama. Things do happen, the action ebbs and flows, the story moves forward, there are funny, sad, touching moments, but the tone remains steady and true. There is no swelling manipulative soundtrack.

I loved the movies’ silences (brave for a filmmaker), the soundless landscape, the sparse monosyllabic conversation, the quiet acceptance of surprises along the journey. I have grown to respect these places that are so foreign to the one where I grew up and Payne, who did grow up in Nebraska, obviously does too.

After the movie, the scene I encountered while waiting in line in the bathroom of the Des Moines theater felt like an extension of the movie.
“Did you like it?” An older woman asked her friend.
Silence.
“Yes,” her friend responded.
Silence.
“Might be hard to recommend to just anyone. Not like ‘Saving Mr Banks.'”
Silence.
“Yah. There weren’t a lot of lines.”

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