The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)
Well, we’re back. Sorry for the unannounced hiatus. If you must know, I’ve spent the last month or so writing a play about an unemployed, misanthropic blogger who lives in Washington, DC. It is semi-autobiographical.
Because we’re just so excited to be back, we’re jumping right back into the 2nd Annual Taste My Sad Oscar Watch! The 2ATMSOW officially kicked off with our post on Like Crazy (and unofficially with the film Weekend), although I don’t really think either of them will get any Oscar nominations. So this is the first major contender we’re looking at. It was nominated for five Golden Globes, awards that, despite being corrupt, are often regarded as the best predictors of Oscar nominations among the major awards ceremonies. Side question: many friends of the blog have asked if I'm pulling a trick from the Hollywood Foreign Press's book by writing about this film to try to ensure George Clooney’s appearance at the Taste My Sad Awards ceremony (to be held at the Olive Garden in about a month and a half). I cannot comment on these allegations at the moment. I do, however, really hope that George Clooney loves unlimited salad and breadsticks.
Category: Sad film about genealogy. It’s a relatively new craze for white people to look up their ancestors and see what they got up to in the old country. I once remember talking to someone who undertook this quest and complained that her ancestors were “boring.” As in, they were born in some European country, married, had kids, and died, and according to whatever website she used to figure this out, didn’t do anything else of note. I wondered whether or not her ancestors would have tried harder to leave their mark, had they known something like that would’ve been said about them years down the line. I have a feeling they’d have just continued trying desperately to avoid dying of any number of diseases that don’t exist anymore.
(OK this movie is probably not about genealogy. From what I’ve read it is apparently a sad movie about comatose wives. I am listening to this song to prepare, because there is no Smiths song called “Wife in a Coma.”)
My familiarity with this issue: Honestly, your ancestry is a lot like your fantasy football team: nobody cares about it other than you. Unless you’re me, and your great-great-uncle Aloysius invented the bobby pin. (My great-uncle’s name is Robert.) (I may have made all this up.)
This kind of movie raises an interesting question: should sexy movie stars pretend they know what it’s like to be one of the great unwashed? George Clooney In the previews it seems like Clooney’s schlumping it up, forsaking his considerable charisma to play a loser. In the aforementioned About Schmidt, which I remember thinking was really great, Jack Nicholson successfully pulls off this trick. Although now that I bring up About Schmidt, I can only think about the Kathy Bates topless scene. Let’s just forget I ever mentioned it.
Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, Hawaiian land baron Matt King takes his daughters on a trip from Oahu to Kauai to confront the young real estate broker, who was having an affair with Elizabeth before her misfortune.”
What I thought of the movie: It was good. It was not great. But it was very good, I’d say. The movie presents us with a complex situation, to which there are no easy solutions, and it doesn’t take the easy way out. It’s occasionally funny but never forgets about the fact that it is essentially about waiting for someone to die. And the actors are very good, especially superhunk Clooney, who is excellent.
But in the end it doesn’t quite add up. The script was kind of weak: the dialogue was often overly expository, and voiceover was deployed clumsily at the beginning of the movie, making it kind of hard to get into. And once it does get into a groove, the introduction of Clooney’s 17-year-old daughter’s dopey boyfriend kind of torpedoes it for a while. He’s a really dumb, annoying character, who is not redeemed by a late-night conversation scene with Clooney that is baldly intended to redeem him.
Establishing such a complex situation as the movie does takes a lot of skill, and often I felt like the writers weren't up to the task. You’ve got to keep a lot of balls in the air without the audience really noticing, and sometimes it’s hard not to notice. Like that scene with the dumb kid that I mentioned before. You get the sense that they added that scene after a test screening in which people said, “we hate that kid, get rid of him,” but they couldn’t get rid of him because he was in all the other scenes. The movie also kind of wastes Robert Forster, except for that scene where he punches the kid in the face. I liked that scene.
But as I said, more good than bad, more sad than not-sad. Clooney does a lot of emoting, but he’s entitled. I think it’s worth seeing.
How I related to the movie: The film is, as mentioned, set in Hawaii, but Clooney’s opening voiceover talks about how Hawaii is totally not the tropical paradise that it’s cracked up to be, and its residents are not immune to the problems that we mainlanders face. And that’s all fine, but… I would still totally rather live in Hawaii. Not because of the beautiful beaches and clear blue waters (FsOTB will know that those things actually kind of detract from Hawaii’s appeal for me), but people get to dress like slobs all the goddamn time and no one cares! It’s awesome! I am not yet of the age that I can rock a Hawaiian shirt without looking like a knob. But I will be soon. And when I am, I’d like to be living in a place where that sort of thing is not only not frowned upon, but widely accepted, even in the working world.
The reason it’s called The Descendants, by the way, is that Clooney’s great-great-etc-father married a Hawaiian princess, and thus Clooney owns hundreds of thousands of acres of “pristine Hawaiian land” (I think there’s a law that the word “pristine” has to be used to describe Hawaiian things). His decision to sell (or not sell) the land makes the whole “your wife who cheated on you is in a coma” thing more complicated. Having two stressful things going on in your life at the same time is no picnic. Being unemployed during the NBA lockout was very difficult.
How I felt after the movie: I spent much of my bus ride home trying to place the guy who played Clooney’s wife’s paramour. A goofy-looking guy with a recognizable face. I IMDb-ed it when I got home, because I don’t have a smartphone. But I think in this case it’s better that I didn’t, because it would have been really weird to shout “MATTHEW LILLARD!” on the bus. Because YEAH IT WAS THAT GUY. Scooby-Doo star and Freddie Prinze, Jr. BFF Matthew Lillard. It almost ruined the movie for me.
This is definitely an Oscar-bait kind of movie. Good pedigree, wide appeal, etc. And it's not bad, don't get me wrong. I doubt I'll be rooting for it to win many awards, though. Except Best Actor for George Clooney because boy is he dreamy! (Please come to the Olive Garden.)