Could critical praise of Will Forte's 'Nebraska' subtlety lead to Best Supporting Actor traction?

Posted by · 11:52 am · November 15th, 2013

As Alexander Payne’s “Nebraska” makes its way into limited release today, more reviews are hitting the wire, reflecting a movie that, while not an out-and-out critical knock-out like “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “12 Years a Slave” or “Before Midnight,” certainly has its champions. Naturally, star Bruce Dern is getting great notices, but co-star Will Forte is getting his fair share of solid ink, too, leading me to wonder if Paramount could have a serious Best Supporting Actor shot with the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member.

Multiple critics are praising the subtlety of the performance. At The Wall Street Journal, Joe Morgenstern writes that Forte inhabits the role of David Grant with “soulful delicacy,” while at the LA Weekly, Amy Nicholson compared the actor’s work to Buster Keaton, observing that he “plays it simple, waiting for the audience to warm to him when we’re ready.”

HitFix’s Drew McWeeny proposed in his review Wednesday that the film could be a game-changer for perception of Forte in the industry. “He never oversells it,” McWeeny wrote. “[And] there’s something about his innate sweetness that seems to me to be a perfect reaction to a life lived constantly worried about a father’s anger.”

You’ll recall back during Cannes, the trades had similarly high marks to offer. At Variety, Scott Foundas also praised Forte’s nuance, writing that his scenes with Dern resonate “with the major and minor grievances that lie unresolved between parents and children.” At The Hollywood Reporter, Todd McCarthy found that the actor “nicely underplays an incipient sad sack who would dearly like to enrich an uneventful life by learning more about his father but can only do so indirectly.”

Of course, like with all things, approval isn’t blanket. In his Cannes review, our own Guy Lodge didn’t seem to think Forte was up to the challenge. But by and large, the actor is getting the kind of hat tips that can change the direction of a career. (Not that we all don’t want to see another “MacGruber.”)

And that has to be the bee’s knees to Forte, who remarked to me at the AFI Fest after-party for the film’s premiere Monday night that he was very nervous to be exposed in this way. Often times, he said, being able to hide behind the broad comedic strokes of a character can be a bit of a safety net. Here he was on a limb in a role that many would not have expected him to play, so to say the least, anxiety crept in, mingling with the genuine surprise that he landed the part in the first place.

While Dern’s campaign is in full swing with Great Whites like Jack Nicholson diving deep behind the scenes to help the actor find that elusive leading man success on the circuit, and June Squibb seems to be finding more and more support, the potential for a Forte supporting actor bid is really percolating now. The fact is that category is a little bit up in the air for the moment and it’s a great opportunity to strike.

Sunday afternoon, Jason Sudeikis will be moderating a post-screening Q&A with his former “SNL” co-star on the Paramount lot for a SAG, and that’s just the latest. Forte has been an incredible steward for the film from the word “go,” putting in a lot of face time with press and voting organizations, eager to sell (for lack of a better word) a film he’s super proud of.

And, by the way, he’s legitimately one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life. That kind of thing goes a long way this time of year.

“Nebraska” is now playing in limited release.

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