Bruce Dern is the perfect center of this movie as Woody, a partly demented old man who may have simply become the person he has always been. (I have a theory that that happens to many people who live long enough). He is counterweighted by Will Forte as his kind son David who finally gives in to the old man's belief that a Publisher's Clearning house "You have won $1,000,000" is a statment of fact, not the gimmack everyone else knows it is. Their road trip from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska could be a straight shot on mostly straight highways but that wouldn't be a movie ... and therein lie the problems.
The movie is in black and white, a heavy handed statement of the mental state and the dullness of the place. It's winter, the trees are bare, for all we know the skies are always overcast. The "filler" of the move is problemmatic for me. Woody's wife is a rusty pitchfork of nasty comments spiced with constant sexual allusions. She has only one tender moment with her husband and is given good things to say about others only when it plays into an onscreen joke. Woody's family in his former home town seem to me parodies of narrow, gullible, venal people with only rare moments of tenderness -- just enough to hint that Woody was actually a sweet guy much as David is, always willing to help others. Woody's two jobless nephews are ugly Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dees, as mean and stupid a picture of down and out Midwesterners as could possibly have been filmed. I was repulsed.
I am confused about what this filmmaker was trying to tell us. Is this what he thinks "fly over" land is like? It certainly looks authentic) although endless brown fields and blue skies would have been easier to look at. Does he think people are so utterly repressed and generally uninteresting? Or did he have one wonderful actor to showcase and let the screen writer and casting director loose to come up with cartoons that would make the audience laugh now and then so they wouldn't be too pained at what old age might bring to those with failing memories, inchoate longings and no real sophistication? I would like to say that the several movies that have come out in the last year and a half about older people are a good trend, but only the insightful The Last Quartet (not to be confused with The Quartet) has been a truly honest movie.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!