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Film / Nebraska

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Nebraska is a 2013 dramedy directed by Alexander Payne staring Bruce Dern and Will Forte, co-starring Stacy Keach, Bob Odenkirk and June Squibb.

Woody Grant (Dern) is an elderly man with mild, early stage dementia, who gets a sweepstakes letter in the mail telling him he's won a million dollars, which is an obvious front to sell people magazine subscriptions. Ignoring this and the advice of his wife Kate and sons David and Ross, the former of whom picked him up after the police found him on the side of the road, he's determined to get his prize from the office in Lincoln, Nebraska. After catching his dad running away again, David decides to drive him to the destination to prevent a further incident. The two end up stopping in Woody's hometown of Hawthorne on the way there after Woody gets a head injury, and word soon spreads of Woody's supposed windfall while the two take a trip down memory lane.

Both Dern and Squibb were nominated for Golden Globes and Academy Awards, for Best Actor/Supporting Actress respectively.


  • The Alcoholic: Woody, something he staunchly refuses to admit, saying he deserves a drink after his service in the Korean War. David points out he was only a mechanic. It's later all but stated that said alcoholism is a result of getting shot down while being transferred, something David was entirely unaware of.
    • This isn't helped by the fact that Woody's father used to let him sip his beer — a tradition he kept up with Ross and David when they were children - Woody cajoles David into falling off the wagon during their trip.
    • According to the owner of the Hawthorne Republican, a major contributor is that there's not much else to actually do in that small town.
  • Brutal Honesty: Woody answers all of David's questions — in full.
  • Butt-Monkey: Woody and David can qualify.
  • Cassandra Truth: David is quite candid about the fact that Woody didn't get a big prize - but nobody believes him until they see the sweepstakes letter personally.
  • Cringe Comedy: Most of the movie can be summed up as one big, awkward moment, simply because of the clashing personalities.
    • Taken even further once Woody lets slip about his winnings — every interaction afterward regarding the topic leaves David doing a mental Face Palm.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The movie being in Black & White adds to the bleak, somber feel of it all.
  • Determinator: Nothing will stop Woody from going to Lincoln to get his million dollars, no matter how many people tell him it's a scam.
  • Deuteragonist: David and Woody are equally important for the movie's plot.
  • Dirty Old Woman: Kate has shades of this, calling Woody's dead sister a whore and flashing the tombstone of an ex-boyfriend.
  • invokedDude, Not Funny!: While the entire bar is laughing when Ed reads Woody's sweepstakes "prize" out loud, everyone stops when Woody solemnly retrieves it - even Ed is no longer wearing a smile when he sees how reverently Woody's treating that slip of paper. And then David slugs him over it.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Woody, quite obviously, doesn't get the million, but he gets a nice hat. However, David makes it up to him by getting him the only two things he wanted: a new truck (albeit a used one that's like new and just has his name on the title, since Woody can't drive) and an air compressor. David also lets him drive it down the main street of Hawthorne, giving everyone there the impression he won the money after all.
    • Particularly satisfying is seeing Ed, sporting the shiner that David had given him, stare in disbelief as Woody drives by.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Even Ed Pegram, who's otherwise an all-around sleaze with few if any redeeming qualities, has the decency to stop laughing at Woody when he realizes how much the sweepstakes letter and the false sense of hope it gave meant to him.
    • Applies to Ed's friends at the bar, who also stopped laughing when Woody calmly but pathetically got his letter back from Ed. Perhaps they recognized that Woody was likely suffering from mild dementia and laughing at someone in that state crosses the line.
  • Extreme Doormat: Woody, according to his own wife.
    Kate: He couldn't say no to anybody, and it ruined him.
  • False Friend: Ed Pegram.
  • Get Out!: David calmly tells Ed to get out of their booth of the bar after he reveals Woody had an affair before David was born but after Ross was and that he stopped it in an attempt to get some of Woody's non-existent money. Though what pushed it over the edge was Ed calling Kate a bitch.
  • Henpecked Husband: If everyone else's point of view is reliable, Woody is this, and given his relative quiet demeanor even when she insults his deceased family right in front of him, it's probably accurate.
  • Hilarity Ensues: The family passes by Ed Pegram's place, and the boys decide to get back their father's air-compressor.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Kate takes pride in being one of the most sought-after women in Hawthorne growing up.
  • Ironic Echo: The "Prize Winner" hat is a non-verbal example. When we first see Woody wearing it, it comes across as a cruel mockery of his defeat after not winning the sweepstakes. A few scenes later, it comes across as triumphant as he shows off his "winnings" to everyone back in Hawthorne.
  • Jerkass:
    • David's cousins Cole and Bart, two ex-cons (one of which sexually assaulted a woman) who laugh incessantly at how long David took to get to Hawthorne, try to weasel their way into getting Woody's winnings, and later rob him of his sweepstakes paper and then insult David for claiming to have a million dollars after they themselves scoffed at the truth when Woody's family repeatedly told them.
    • Ed Pegram, who tries to collect on Woody's money, threatening legal action and then later confronts Woody himself. He brags how he put a stop to Woody's affair as some sort of badge of honor and later reads Woody's letter aloud to a crowd of people for his own amusement.
    • Woody's wife Kate, who is quite dismissive of him, refuses to sugarcoat the ticket for him, really doesn't sugarcoat anything. Unlike most of the characters listed here though...
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kate truly does care for Woody as shown in two scenes: when she tells off some members of his family trying to shake him down for money by proxy and when she kisses his forehead in the hospital after he ends up there again late in the film.
    • Woody himself also qualifies, as Peggy mentions that he'd always do a favor for anyone that asked. When David mentions Ed Pegram wanting a slice of the prize-money, Woody cheerfully responds that he'd be happy to loan Ed a couple-hundred bucks if he's hard up. Kate herself reinforces this point later. Woody also states that the reason he wants the million dollars so much is so he could leave something for his sons when he dies.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: The impetus of the movie is David deciding to just take his dad out to the sweepstakes headquarters to get it done with, as Woody was too stubborn for any other option to be viable.
  • Mood Whiplash: In-Universe, as seen under Dude, Not Funny!.
  • Nice Guy: One resident of Hawthorne is genuinely happy for Woody "winning" the sweepstakes, and never asks for a dime.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Near the end of their stay in Hawthorne, David and Woody are "mugged" by Cole and Bart wearing ski-masks, but their usual coats.
  • The Place
  • Precision F-Strike: Kate delivers a rather cathartic one to the relatives hounding her and Dave for a cut of Woody's money.
  • Road Trip Plot: For the first third or so. After Woody's head injury most of the action takes place in Hawthorne.
  • Running Gag:
    • Woody pissing on the side of the road.
    • "How long'd it take to drive from Billings?"
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Alternately played for laughs and drama with Woody, including his fixation on getting to Lincoln to claim his "winnings".
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Subverted somewhat. Woody doesn't get the million, but David buys him a new truck (albeit one with his name on it, since Woody can't drive) and an air compressor which Woody stated was what he would only buy with the money and convinces the people of Hawthorne that he won the million. And a hat.
  • Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Kate, though it's implied she's been this blunt for as long as Woody has known her.
  • Super Gullible: Played for Drama, as Woody is absolutely convinced that he is a "Big Winner" like the sweepstakes letter promises.
    Receptionist: Does he have Alzheimer's?
    David: No, he just believes what people tell him.
  • Tranquil Fury: Seen when David discovers Ed Peagram reading the stolen sweepstakes letter to other patrons in the bar, mocking Woody. David calmly approaches Ed as his father takes back the letter, turns to walk away, thinks twice, turns around, and clocks Ed in the face, all without saying a word.
  • Truth in Television: Situations similar to this have happened in Real Life, due to the incredibly deceptive and manipulative advertising and promotional materials put out by the companies that run sweepstakes. Both State and Federal governments have had to step in many times, imposing massive fines and updating the laws in an effort to end these practices. The problem is the sweepstakes companies simply find new ways to bend the laws...
  • Warts and All: Kate doesn't sugarcoat a single opinion she has for Woody's deceased relatives.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Though the film is quite good at wrapping up a lot of seemingly unrelated subplots and character details in its final scenes, we never do find out what happens with David and his ex-girlfriend Noel.
  • Wimp Fight: The minor scuffle between Ross and Bart counts as one, as neither actually lands a blow before Kate breaks it up.