Nebraska (15) *****

Bruce Dern  and Will Forte search for something more than riches in Nebraska.
Bruce Dern and Will Forte search for something more than riches in Nebraska.
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It could be you. You could win seven-figure lottery jackpots, priceless trinkets and more money than you know what to do with, if you believe the deluge of spam e-mails that bombard our inboxes or the junk mail that clutters our doormats.

The key word here, of course, is ‘could’.

Companies often pray on greed and the unfulfilled dreams of people struggling to survive.

It’s only when you delve head-first into the small print that you realise your chances of claiming that glittering first prize are just as remote as if you’d paid your money and plucked seven numbers out of the ether.

Nebraska is a bittersweet road movie about a curmudgeon, Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), who takes one of those bogus prize notifications to heart.

Woody embarks on a cross-country odyssey to collect the million dollars he believes is waiting for him in the titular state.

The old man’s despairing son David (Will Forte) and his long-suffering wife Kate (June Squibb) try, to no avail, to make Woody see the light.

But the ageing father has a letter in his hand that clearly states he is due a massive payout and he intends to get from Montana to Nebraska - and he’ll walk every arduous step of the way if that’s what he has to do.

Fearful of the repercussions for his father’s health, David agrees to indulge Woody’s fantasy.

He accompanies the patriarch on his journey to the offices of the lottery company.

En route, they stop off at the home of Aunt Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) and her husband Uncle Ray (Rance Howard), who are delighted to learn of a windfall in the family.

So too are numbskull cousins Bart (Tim Driscoll) and Cole (Devin Ratray), and Woody’s one-time friend Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach), who claims he is owed some money from a debt createdmany years ago.

The louder David protests that Woody hasn’t won a dime, the more convinced friends and neighbours become that the old coot is holding out on them.

Tensions build and David’s brother Ross (Bob Odenkirk) and mother join the madcap expedition, swatting away the free-loaders, who feel they are entitled to share in Woody’s miracle.

Shot in crisp black and white, Nebraska is another delightful character study from director Alexander Payne

Payne has also directed films including Sideways and The Descendants, which gives you some idea of what the humour in Nebraska will be like – black with a side of quirk.

Bob Nelson’s script deftly sketches the sinewy bonds between the dysfunctional members of the Grant clan and the minutiae of unremarkable lives is a rich source of humour.

Dern delivers one of the finest performances of his illustrious career and is a frontrunner for next year’s Oscars, tugging heartstrings as his forgetful family man clings onto the dream of collecting his winnings, even if he has to die trying.

Squibb is hysterical in support and Forte is a loveable straight man caught in the middle of madness that movingly brings the generations closer together.