Writer/Director: Alexander Payne
Star: George Clooney
The commercials/trailers for The Descendants made it look funnier than it actually was. That isn't to say the movie doesn't have humor because it truly does. However there are more serious discussions and noticeable moments of quiet than one might realize when viewing the commercials.
Director Alexander Payne has a knack for taking a few days or weeks in someone's life and making it pretty darn interesting. The characters in his movies develop and progress (usually for the better). Typically they have some life-changing experience (though not usually life-threatening) and come out on the other end with a new life lesson in their pocket. Payne's characters are often sad or just plain pathetic but by the end of the movie, there exists a little hope. There's a glimmer that even though their life kinda sucked before they might just be ok. I don't always love his movies like most critics do (Sideways was entertaining but I had no way of connecting with those two) but I'm always intrigued about how he handles someone's story. The Descendants and Payne did not let me down.
It's not a happy story but it's in Hawaii and stars George Clooney so it's a pretty one: A wife/mother is out water skiing, takes a tumble, hits her head, and ends up in a coma. Her husband, Matt, having never had a history of direct parenting their two daughters, is suddenly faced with the daily duty of being a father. His 10-year old daughter, Scottie, is acting out at school on an almost daily basis. She's sending bullying texts and bringing in pictures of her coma mom for her art project. Matt's older daughter, Alexandra, has a history of bad behavior (drugs, drinking, etc.) herself and is off at boarding school on the big island. There's also a big business deal involving Matt and his cousins that affects all of Hawaii but this is truly secondary to the core relationships of Matt and his girls. Also secondary (but a story catalyst), is the his wife's marital unhappiness.
I don't have much else to say about Payne's directing that I didn't say above. What's true about his handling of other movies is true of this as well. Oddly my favorite of his films, Election, is probably my favorite because it's so dang quirky. He's less quirky now and more interested in what makes people -less driven than the Tracy Flicks of this world- tick. Payne has a true love and sensitivity for his characters but, and maybe it's just me, the dude loves locations almost as much. It was so nice to see the everyday Hawaii and not the vacation Hawaii its tourists know. People really do live and work there and don't exist to place a lei around your neck.
|Woodley as Alex (l) and Krause as Sid (r). Sid ROCKS!|
And just a word of warning...it's SERIOUSLY language-y. The daughters use words that would make some of us blush.