Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Invitation to blog - in English, please

There's this collaborative blog site called Language Place

There is a theme of the month.
This month's theme is Meeting the Other

Each monthly issue is put together by a guest editor.
This month's editor is my friend Abha Iyengar.

So, what do you need to do?
Write a piece on the theme - prose/poem/fiction/musings - your choice.
It's got to be in English, please.
Publish it in your own blog.
Submit the link to langplace AT gmail DOT com

You have to get it in by April 30th.
Good luck and happy writing.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

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!