To my friends in the South, it’s a novelty to know a Nebraskan. And so when Alexander Payne’s Nebraska was coming out, everyone was asking me about it. Had I seen it? How great is it? How realistic is it?
To answer the first question: Yes, finally, while on a plane to California.
To answer the second: Not. At all. I really disliked it for a number of reasons, to a degree that makes me think this transcends the “watched on a plane” bias. The acting was mostly stiff, which seemed to be a natural extension of a script that was trite and pointless. The dialogue was wretched. Well, aside from one line, the wonderful “Lincoln doesn’t even have an ear” dismissal of Mount Rushmore.
To answer the third: What bugged me most about Nebraska was how little it resembled the real Nebraska. All of the characters aside from the father and son at the center of the story were the worst kind of rural stereotypes, stupid and casually mean. There was one family—the victims of an errant compressor heist—that were warm and kind, and they alone resembled the people I grew up around. People on the Plains are nice. Not universally, no. But on the balance, they are generous, sweet people. Flawed, yes, but still kind and thoughtful. This seemed like an outsider’s vision of Nebraska. I hated it.
If you want a look into that part of the world, go watch (or re-watch) Straight Story, which is David Lynch’s best film (courting controversy alert!) and captures the Plains perfectly. It also is a journey story, one that has a flawless script and top-notch acting. Just try to pretend it’s set in Nebraska, not Iowa.