The Descendants - disjointed emotions

There was so much talk about this movie when it first came out last year that I really wanted to see it, but missed somehow. Then there was renewed buzz during the awards season .. actor, director, screenplay, best film .. OMG, the buzz was deafening, further deepening my regret! And then, I discovered that a lot of the Oscar nominated films are playing again in theaters, for whatever reason. Thus, got to see it on big screen.

There is something about stars like George Clooney. I don't want to admit that they can actually act. All they have to do is dress up (for the part) and look handsome/powerful/menacing/energetic/whatever - they will carry the movie through solely on their looks and they look sexy no matter what. Not an ounce of acting is involved in any of this. But you got to hand it to George - he had not always been the handsome tough guy - he had attempted family and romantic dramas like One Fine Day (with Michelle Pfeiffer) and Intolerable Cruelty (with Catherine Zeta Jones). Of course, he still looked very sexy in those as well. Then came his own (socially conscious) works like Syriana, Michael Clayton and so on. So, I began to have a nagging doubt that George has some ability to act. In The Descendants, George's portrayal of Matt King was lauded as nuanced, controlled and utterly non-sexy. And, as I mentioned earlier, the buzz was deafening. Therefore, I was primarily curious about George's performance in this film.

When this film first came out, I heard the director Alexander Payne in a detailed interview, I think, on NPR's Fresh Air. I remember being very impressed by some of the things he spoke, about his approach to his art, how he chooses stories, how he handles stars, etc. I was so impressed that I looked up that interview on their website several times and posted snippets from it on my FB wall. I must confess - I've seen only one other film by Alexander Payne before this - the erratically charming romp through California's wine country, "Sideways". The film was not only entertaining, but informative as well - it introduced me to the joys and varieties of pinot noir. However, I do not remember feeling, "OMG, who is this director? I must look him up on IMDB and line up all his previous movies on Netflix - in short, I do not remember being wowed. Listening to Payne talk about The Descendants made me curious about him as well. So, it is against this backdrop of double curiosity that I watched this film.

I felt that the film is about loss and how one deals with it. It is also about family - family is important. Matt King is faced with three kinds of loss. His wife is in a coma and could possibly die. Then he discovers that she had been cheating on him. So, now he has to process this loss of trust all by himself. If the wife were alive in front of him, perhaps they could have talked, argued or even ended in a divorce - there would have been some active way to deal with the loss. Now he has to deal with it all alone. And then, there is the matter of the possibility of selling the 300 acre land of unspoilt natural beauty that is held in family trust by an extended family of some 50 odd cousins. Up to the point of revelation that Matt's wife has been having an affair, the screenplay and the director did a splendid job. Once that cat is out of the bag, the script kind of unravels and does not gel together again.

Payne makes the most of the story being set in Hawaii, setting the stage with wide angle, sweeping shots of panoramic beauty, whether it be city scapes, or suburbia or the wildly beautiful sea coast. This tragi-comedy of human proportions plays against backdrop of divine beauty. Though he presents us with the theme of loss right at the outset, Payne seems to be privately chuckling to himself for the rest of the film. No, he is not laughing at the audience - at least I don't think so. But he doesn't want to take his characters and their troubles seriously. So, we don't really connect with King's angst at various points in the film, nor do we understand his dilemmas. The supporting cast is present like a lubricant to keep the machinery function smoothly, but the story is that of Matt King and the movie belongs to George Clooney. However, I got the feeling that Clooney did exactly what he was told by the director and the director only wanted a chuckle - not a cry, not a sob, not even a sigh - he wanted a chuckle, and that's what he got. Somehow, when the theme is loss, that does not exactly work. Now I am curious again - I have to find out if that chuckle is Payne's invention or if it is present in the original. Now I got to go read the novel!

Special mention should be made of the two young women who acted as Clooney's daughters. They've done a fantastic job. For the last several years, I've noticed that young actors, especially girls are more and more talented. In the 1990's there was the occasional Anna Paquin and Christina Ricci (both of whom have grown into very beautiful and versatile actors, I might add.) The millennium caused a veritable explosion of young talent - starting with the Harry Potter series, (esply Emma Watson), there have been many films showcasing young talent. Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller join those ranks. I hope they grow to be successful actors!


Vasu said…
I saw this movie yesterday.

Forget clooney, I was amazed by the elder daughter (Shailene Woodley). So good-looking and equally good acting.

Time to add her other movies to my Netflix queue.
pi said…
Alexander Payne uses natural scenery very well(He does that in Sideways also)! I had never been to Hawaii, but friends who lived and visited tell me that it makes them nostalgic.
Anonymous said…
cool review
Anonymous said…
nice movie enjoyed it....and your review too
hii.. Nice Post Great job.

Thanks for sharing.
Kottapali said…
Thank you all for reading and commenting.
Vasu, yes, she was good.
pi, yes, I remember that from Sideways.
చాలా బాగుంది మీ రివ్యూ. రెండవ పారాలో క్లూనీ గురించి రాసినది పూర్తిగా అర్థం కాలా! తిట్టారా పొగిడారా?
Kottapali said…
తెలుగు భావాలు, క్లూనీ నటన నాకు ఇష్టమే. అతని సినిమాలు ఇష్టంగా చూస్తాను. కానీ అతను కొన్ని రకాల పాత్రలు మాత్రమే చెయ్యగలడని నాకో అనుమానం. నేను చూసినంతలో సిరియానా అనే సినిమాలో మాత్రమే కొంచెం భిన్నమైన పాత్రలో కనిపించాడు. ఆ పాత్రలో అయినా అతని నటన కంటే ఆ పాత్రకి ఉన్న బిల్డప్ ఎక్కువ పని చేస్తుంది.
ఇక్కడ సమీక్షించిన సినిమా కచ్చితంగా అతని నటనకి గొప్ప్ ఛాలెంజ్. అతనికున్న పరిమితుల్లో బాగా చేశాడనే చెప్పుకోవాలి. ముఖ్యంగా రెండు మూడు దృశ్యాల్లో.
తన మేనరిసమ్స్ ఏ మాత్రం కనబడనీయకుండా నటించగలిగే ఆక్టర్లుంటారా అని ఎప్పడినుండో నాకో సందేహం. ఈ జాడ్యం ముఖ్యంగా నటులకు (పురుషులకు) ఎక్కువ. అతి కొద్దిగా నాకు తెలిసినంతమటుకు, బహుశః Robert De Niro ఒక exception. ఇలాంటి ఆక్టర్లు మహా అరుదు. పాత్ర వెనుకనున్న వ్యక్తి కనబడకుండా నటించే నటులు ఎంతమంది ఉంటారు?

అదే పారాలో మీరన్నట్టు - ఇట్టాంటివారు ఆక్టింగ్ చేయకపోయినా నష్టం ఉండదు లెండి. వెండి తెరపై వారిని చూస్తేనే "పైసా వసూల్‌."
Kottapali said…
తెలుగు భావాలు, మంచి నటుడు/నటి అంటే తన స్వంత మేనరిజంస్ ని కప్పిపుచ్చుకోవటం అవసరమో కాదో నాకు తెలియదు మరి. అది పెద్ద విషయం కాకపోవచ్చు. పాత్రతో మమేకం అవడం ఒక భాగం. ఒక్కొక్క దృశ్యంలో పాత్ర ప్రవర్తనని అర్ధం చేసుకుని దృశ్యం పండాల్సిన భావాన్ని పలికించడం ఇంకో భాగం. కనీసం నేనలా అనుకుంటున్నా. గొప్ప నటుడు/నటి అనిపించుకోవాలంటే వైవిధ్యమున్న పాత్రల్లో రాణించడం గొప్ప అనుకుంటాను.