I’ve been selling Nebraska to people as “a charming version of Fargo without the violence”. That gets attention fairly quickly.
Alexander Payne’s drama, however, is more quaint than quirky. Nebraska’s prominent road trip involving a distracted father Woody (played by Bruce Dern) and his patiently courteous son David (played by Will Forte) coasts along flat landscapes. The two converse about the past and the exciting current possibilities of million dollar winnings Woody received in the mail. The relationship between Dern and Forte is just one of the many likeable building blocks to this heavenly appealing film.
Practically everyone doubts Woody’s grand prize, saying that it’s a sham. Woody’s wife Kate (played by June Squibb) is also part of the crowd, often reminding her dullard husband of his unhelpful, checked-out personality.
David has a feeling that Woody’s prize is bologna too, but he can’t help but go along with his father’s happiness. David doesn’t hope to see his Dad fail. He’s going along for the ride because he shares the same sort of dream chasing. He even tells his mother he just wants to give his old man hope.
Payne shows his audience how far different types of hereditary characteristics can travel. We meet the men of the Grant family throughout the movie. The clan can be often seen together moderately stimulated by television while hesitantly trying to make small talk. During these moments, we observe that David – while taking on his father’s traits – can see the pattern.
Nebraska is wise, but also very funny. Screenwriter Bob Nelson understands the nature of telling dry readings, and Payne knows perfectly well how to direct his actors in accordance to the script.
Once Dern and Forte are set in scenarios that cause them to put their mission on hold, the movie turns into a collection of vignetted character driven pieces. We visit a cemetery where Kate calls out the dead. She remembers the flaws over strengths, but never with cynicism. Another scene has David and brother Ross (played by Bob Odenkirk) retrieving “stolen” equipment and leaving their worried parents to cover for them. Actually, this sneaky sequence plays out as a cuter version of Sideways’ unforgettable wallet sting – also directed by Payne.
Nebraska doesn’t feel like a movie that pretentiously puts its story aside, but rather understands that development – not comedy – is the main priority. We see Forte and Dern go through extensive characterizations. Like Forte’s David, Nelson and Payne are patient with how the pieces play out, making each step convincing. This is what separates the drama from other family adventures that follow a routine of “drive, stop, make the audience laugh, drive again”.
The cinematography is also a stand out. It’s beautifully shot in black-and-white giving the composed film an antiqued look. The shooting style adds to the film’s plainness without making the movie appear drab itself.
You often hear people describing a filmmaker’s movie as “a film with a warm heart and a kind soul”, and it couldn’t be more true with Nebraska. Alexander Payne’s film had me smiling throughout and I was quite swept up by how honest the film was being with its bare portrayal of a family tree rooted in the outskirts of Americana. It’s touching and delightful. I dare you not to be grinning by the final frames.
If you thought the big screen world of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs couldn’t get any stranger, you obviously haven’t visited a world full of live, hybrid leftovers.
Directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn (the latter having some involvement with the film’s predecessor) are fully aware as to how Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs won audiences over with its wild visuals and bizarre sense of humour. That’s why there’s even more of those two factors in this energetic sequel.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 doesn’t feel like its trying too hard to stand on its own using a script penned by John Francis Daley, Jonathan Goldstein, and Erica Rivinoja. An immediate observation though between the two films is that this one offers lots of jokes that dabble in potty humour – something the first surprisingly and impressively had very little of.
It also doesn’t feel like this sequel is trying to out-weird Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. The premise for this second outing teases the filmmakers to go buck wild with the absurdities. Funny enough, Cameron and Pearn keep the film focused on its story instead of offering a plethora of random jokes involving random concoctions.
The main players all happily return to voice their characters. All except Mr. T’s Officer Earl Devereaux, who is now flawlessly voiced by Terry Crews.
The plot has been stretched out and takes its time to establish Bill Hader’s Flint Lockwood even more. We learn Lockwood looks up to and idolizes a wobbly Steve Jobs inspired super-inventor named Chester V (voiced by Will Forte) and vies to become one of Chester V’s scientific mercenaries.
The beginning may take more patience than expected with young ones since our motley crew doesn’t end up on the leftover island until the film’s second act. But, the movie consistently offers funny dialogue and vivid animation to hold the audience’s attention.
The directorial duo are also aware that because this is a sequel to a film that was a highly original adaptation, they must step up the creativity as well – and they succeed.
The leftovers that run amok in Swallow Falls are nothing you’ve ever seen before. Each animal captures a certain child-like innocence and puts a new spin on “playing with your food”.
I was delighted with each new creature that made its way onto the screen and I often found myself in fits of laughter. The film’s multiple food puns may be easy targets after a while, but the ridiculous context makes it all gel in this imaginative universe.
While Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 has that added novelty of being a movie that gives watchers a chance to say insane things like, “I watched James Caan befriend a group of dill pickles and then take them fishing”, it’s far from being a breezy time waster that panders to a hyperactive generation using absurdities.
It’s one of those rare sequels that lives up to the originality and hilarity of its predecessor, while also being able to stand on its own two legs as inventive entertainment. It sticks to a children’s film layout with a lesson being delivered to its target demographic, but the craziness never flies off the rails – allowing parents to have as much fun as the kids.
Speaking of kids, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is so imaginative, it may encourage young ones to expand their creative horizons. Before we know it, they’ll be thinking outside their own party box.