The father, Woody, played wonderfully by Bruce Dern, is a man of few words and as stubborn as they come. He intends to travel from his home in Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska. There he hopes to claim his one million dollar sweepstakes prize. No one in his family can convince him that the “prize” is just a mail scam so Woody—who has no vehicle—begins walking. Without much money and not well dressed. The police pick him up on the side of the road and reunite him with his family. At the first opportunity, Woody resumes his walk. Finally one of his two sons, David, decides to indulge Woody’s delusion and drive him to Nebraska. It’s either that or repeatedly chase him down on the highway and deliver him back to his rather harpy-like wife, Kate. It’s a tossup whether David does this out of love, a sense of duty, or just to get a break from his own dreary life.
The scenes shot inside Ray’s house are both hilarious and painful. Mostly they are scenes of older men, and a couple of overweight twenty-something nephews, sitting on old sofas watching television, either game shows or football. What little conversation there is, mostly revolves around cars. Nephews Cole & Bart (they might easily have been characters on The Simpsons) ask David how long it took them to get from Billings to Hawthorne. David shrugs, not knowing exactly. “A couple of days, I guess…” The nephews find this answer incomprehensible and finally hilarious. “What were you driving? A dump truck?” They howl with laughter at their joke.
Hawthorne is bleak: old buildings, old people, little happening in the way of culture or economy. A symbol of a once great country in decline, and a perfect echo of Woody’s personal fortunes.
Even amid all the contrary evidence around him, Woody (and many other Americans, I suspect), holds on to that most persistent of American dreams: that overnight, he may strike it rich.
Over drinks one evening, David asks about the circumstances of his father and mother meeting. Woody explains that it just ‘happened’. And the question of love? No, that never entered into it. And children? No, Woody, explains, again shrugging, he never especially wanted children, but he had always liked to screw.
Finally after another night of heavy drinking, Woody loses his ‘million dollar letter’ and—like the drunk he is—he sits outsides on the steps of one of Hawthorne’s dilapidated business fronts and hangs his head in despair.
“What would you even do with a million dollars?” his son asks in exasperation.
“I’d buy a truck.”
“You can’t even drive.”
In addition to a truck, Woody wants an air compressor to replace the one a ‘friend’ borrowed from him forty years ago and never returned.
“You don’t need a million dollars for that, Dad.”
“And I wanted something to leave you boys,” Woody explains.
A very deflated Woody is at last ready to head home with his son, but before they do, they have a couple of stops to make, David explains. Here viewers should be prepared to have their hearts broken.
Two big thumbs up for this one. 9/10