Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is an aging, drunk living in Billings Montana with his wife Kate (June Squibb). They have two sons David (Will Forte) an electronics salesman in town who had just broke up with his girlfriend Noel (Missy Dotty) and an older son Ross (Bob Odenkirk) who works for KTVQ television and has just got his big break in front of the camera. Woody seems to think he won one million dollars when he receives a marketing letter from a firm in Lincoln Nebraska. Since he needs to get to Nebraska to claim is so called winnings he constantly tries to walk there since he can’t drive. His wife Kate and their two sons have all tried to keep him from wondering the highways in the bitter dead of winter but no matter what Woody is constantly afoot to claim what he thinks is his fortune so he can buy a new truck.
It is David who finally gives in to his father’s wishes and decides to take a few days off from work to drive him to Lincoln so that once and for all he will be told he is a loser rather than a winner in the contest. Along their ride across states Woody loses his teeth, splits his head open, visits Mount Rushmore and encounters a hospital stay but nothing will ever be as challenging as when he makes a pit stop in his childhood hometown of Hawthorne. He and David stay with Aunt Martha (Mary Louise Wilson) and Uncle Ray (Rance Howard) with their two sons Cole (Devin Ratray) and Bart (Tim Driscoll) in a town where the most exciting thing to do is drink, watch sports and for that matter sleep. Actually watching paint dry may be more enticing then spending a day with Aunt Martha and Uncle Ray let alone the rest of their family!
Once Woody blurts out to his old buddy Ed Pegram (Stacy Keach) that he won a million dollars he becomes not only an instant town celebrity but also the target of money vultures. Amazing how quickly the vultures circle the sky over the Grant family and Woody hasn’t even died! Many memories are reflected upon by Woody as he walks throughout the town with his son David who has been slowly finding out more than enough about his father’s past and that also of his mothers. Albeit in the end when the real truth comes out about his winnings to family and friends Woody finally gets to drive down Locust Street in a somewhat new truck with his air compressor in back as he wears his new prize winner hat yet through it all a bond of unconditional love has forged ever deeper between a father and his son as they took on an unforgettable journey together.
I can’t say that I hated this film but I surely did not love it. Yes its artsy as it’s filmed in black and white dealing with some very real imagines of the middle states of our country. I think a bit too real which keeps it a bit close to reflective moments of the Jerry Springer Show guests. Vast country settings landscape the back drop of the film as father and son complete their journey but is the cast that really brings out the true images of small towns located in Middle America. Well directed and nicely written although a bit slow at times between the many moments of dark humor this story will somehow make you happy to be who you are or afraid at the prospects of growing old, either way it is well done and truly character driven.
Dern is perfection in this role so much so that I can sometimes see my own father in his eyes making his every movement superb on screen. Squibb was a miss for me in the beginning but slowly but surely takes a lead as the story progresses and her character develops much more, making her a true force to be reckoned with on screen. Forte does a nice job as the son trying to understand his father and although Odenkirk’s role is not as big he too acts well as the older more responsible brother. Keach plays the evil side to the story and does it well but in the end finds out that it may not be best to turn the other cheek. Wilson and Howard play nice together as the relatives to Woody but it is the sons Driscoll and Ratray that steal most of their thunder. As for the rest of the cast they all contribute to this dysfunctional family life in Middle America making me personally happy to be living where I currently do. I could not sit through this story again but truly do appreciate the direction Payne was taking this story in as we go along for the ride. Written with two paws out of four by Jon Patch. I surely don’t see any big box office numbers here but there may be some considerations come Oscar season especially for Squibb.