For the first film he has directed without taking a hand in the screenplay, Alexander Payne (Sideways, The Descendants) travels back to his home state to study the character of one Woody Grant (Bruce Dern), a grouchy octogenarian who hits the road with his son (Will Forte) on a wild goose chase to “win a million dollars” from a magazine-subscription company. Dern, Payne, Forte, and screenwriter Bob Nelson turn what might have been the pathetic portrait of a witless old fart into a gratifyingly sweet-and-sour tour of the American heartland, from the About Schmidt end of Payne’s filmography. Dern, one of Hollywood’s least appreciated but most skillful character actors, is a revelation as Woody, with spirited support by June Squibb, Stacy Keach, and Bob Odenkirk (115 min.).
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