Is a road to nowhere better than no road at all?
That’s one of the big questions posed by Alexander Payne’s wise and wistful Nebraska. As the film starts, we meet Woody Grant (an astonishingly good Bruce Dern) shuffling along the side of the road—tufts of white hair indiscriminately flying from his head, his clothing inadequate against the cold. He’s determined to get to Lincoln, NB on foot (from Montana, mind you). After he’s picked up by the cops and brought back home, he explains that he was going to collect the million dollars promised to him by a Publisher’s Clearinghouse-type letter. His long-suffering wife Kate (June Squibb) and his two adult sons, David (Will Forte) and Ross (Bob Odenkirk), try to reason with him: There is no million dollars. It’s a scam, an attempt to get him to buy magazine subscriptions.
But Woody is obstinate, obsessed. He’s going to get to Lincoln whether his family likes it or not. So David, who is patient and gentle by nature—and whose own life is no great shakes (he has the kind of job—selling stereos— that requires wearing a company polo shirt and his girlfriend just moved out)—decides to take his father on the road to claim his “prize.”