The Descendants reviews

Sabin
Laureate
Posts: 7140
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Re: The Descendants reviews

Postby Sabin » Sat Sep 03, 2011 2:49 am

Mister Tee
I'm not sure I'd use the word "formula", but I'd certainly back up what I think your primary point is: that there's nothing in Payne's films like Sideways and (apparently) this that should doom him to a life of indie scraps (Citizen Ruth is maybe a different case, though I love it almost as much). Sideways was, to me, a pretty wonderful film, but one well within what used to be considered the studio norm. I think many arond here (probably including you and me) said at the time that, 30 years, earlier, it might have been a Jack Lemmon-in-Billy Wilder-mode vehicle. It's a scathing indictment of how utterly today's studios have abandoned anything that even hints of adult life and banished it to their indie arms that it had to go the Searchlight/festival route.

It's vintage. Nothing revelatory. No unexpected turns are taken. I would argue that many filmmakers that peaked not ten years ago have achieved excellence or at least the level of relative excellence that Payne did with Sideways with the same basic ambition. When I say formula, I mean everything in Sideways can be found in your most rudimentary of screenwriting books. Alexander Payne writes films very academically (or Jim Taylor does). For the most part, his characters begin their human journeys with a subset of very human flaws that their journey will provide challenges to rectify along the way. Some of them are minor, some are specific, some are thematic. The major villain in an Alexander Payne film is human nature either within the main character (About Schmidt, Sideways). Election is his best film because it balances satire with a specific rivalry that allows for his thesis to play out. I think he's going to likely spend the rest of his career doing variations on SIdeways, which The Descendants certainly looks like. Maturation road movies even if nobody physically goes anywhere.

Mister Tee wrote
I'm also not quite sure you can say Payne hasn't been embraced by the public. Election, yeah, should have done better. But About Schmidt did over $60 million domestic and Sideways over $70 million, which, for grown-up comedies near a decade ago, was a pretty solid number. We'll see if Clooney can take him even higher.

He will. Alexander Payne hasn't been embraced by the public. They don't know who he is in a different way than they don't know who anybody is. About Schmidt made money b/c of Nicholson, but regardless of that the failure of Sideways to crossover was pretty well-documented in 2004, a Fall season utterly devoid of a candidate. Nobody had seen The Aviator and Million Dollar Baby wasn't scheduled for release. Amidst lame talk of parallels between Mel Gibson and Michael Moore, Sideways was the critically adored little movie that could...that didn't. By the end of the year, it hadn't made $25 million. Sideways was poured down peoples' throats during Oscar season. Million Dollar Baby and The Aviator made $100m+ and there isn't really any reason why either one of those films should have been as significantly more embraced by the public than Sideways.

Sight unseen by me, The Descendants will be Alexander Payne's biggest hit because he is doing something that to me appears unusual for him: he is making a movie about a main character who does not appear to be an asshole. Miles is an asshole. Warren Schmidt reveals himself to be an asshole. I'm crossing my fingers that he can grow (from making films about assholes) and still be kinda great.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6193
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Re: The Descendants reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 03, 2011 1:46 am

Sabin wrote:I'm taking an screenwriting course at UCLA, and of course they teach you how to break down the screenplay to Sideways. Just as Potemkin is to History of Cinema, Sideways is to Screenwriting 101. The strange thing is how many people both in the class and in my periphery as I spoke to my circle of friends either hadn't seen it due to lack of interest or didn't see what the big deal is. I'm not debating the relative merits of this admittedly overrated yet very good film (in the years following the 2004, I prefer it to Million Dollar Baby; there's far more to enjoy in Payne's film, than Eastwood's), but Alexander Payne is one of those incredibly acclaimed writer/directors whose screenplays are absolutely to-the-note formula and yet public embrace has utterly escaped him. I was a little underwhelmed by the trailer for The Descendents, but if Todd McCarthy thinks it's the best film ever then that tells me it's really his most mainstream. Sight unseen, I hope it connects in a strong way if only to propel him to just make more movies. He really didn't need to take over half a decade off after a trifle like Sideways.


I'm not sure I'd use the word "formula", but I'd certainly back up what I think your primary point is: that there's nothing in Payne's films like Sideways and (apparently) this that should doom him to a life of indie scraps (Citizen Ruth is maybe a different case, though I love it almost as much). Sideways was, to me, a pretty wonderful film, but one well within what used to be considered the studio norm. I think many arond here (probably including you and me) said at the time that, 30 years, earlier, it might have been a Jack Lemmon-in-Billy Wilder-mode vehicle. It's a scathing indictment of how utterly today's studios have abandoned anything that even hints of adult life and banished it to their indie arms that it had to go the Searchlight/festival route.

I'm also not quite sure you can say Payne hasn't been embraced by the public. Election, yeah, should have done better. But About Schmidt did over $60 million domestic and Sideways over $70 million, which, for grown-up comedies near a decade ago, was a pretty solid number. We'll see if Clooney can take him even higher.

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6193
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

Re: The Descendants reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 03, 2011 12:42 am

Variety; in the same vein. This appears to be our winner of the week so far.

The Descendants
Some movies aim to distract us; others seek to help us understand. "The Descendants" tackles some of the prickliest issues a contempo family can face with such sensitivity that it's hardly noticeable you're being enlightened while entertained.
By Peter Debruge


Some movies aim to distract us; others seek to help us understand. "The Descendants" tackles some of the prickliest issues a contempo family can face -- coping with a loved one's right-to-die decision -- with such sensitivity that it's hardly noticeable you're being enlightened while entertained. As a Hawaiian father of two negotiating complex emotions while his wife lies comatose after a boating accident, George Clooney reveals yet another layer of himself. His involvement, plus the welcome return of "Sideways" director Alexander Payne, will bring in auds; their tell-a-friend enthusiasm should spell sleeper success among catharsis-seeking adults.
With its tropical vistas and near-perfect weather, Hawaii makes an unexpected backdrop for such a story, a mismatch that island native Matt King (Clooney) acknowledges in his opening voiceover. "Paradise can go fuck itself," he says, the line betraying the anger he feels in the face of his wife's 23-day coma. It isn't a typical movie-star role; movie stars seldom play helpless. And yet Clooney has always kept his character-actor instincts close, which enable him to disappear into a well-written, soul-baring part like this with little vanity or baggage.

Here, he plays a dad who's never had to practice that role. Husband, check. Provider, check. But Matt was always the "backup parent" to his more adventure-seeking wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie, seen waterskiing in the opening shot, then bedridden for the remainder of the film), and the thought of having to raise his 10- and 17-year-old daughters solo terrifies him. The accident comes at a particularly difficult time, as Matt holds a majority stake in the family trust: 25,000 acres of unspoiled land on Kauai that his relatives are pushing him to sell.

To some extent, Matt is overshadowed by a decision he doesn't want to make (the fate of real estate he doesn't necessarily feel entitled to) and forced to deal with one that's already been made for him (his wife's will stipulates she doesn't want to live in a vegetative state). Through it all, his focus remains on his children. Younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is starting to act out, while teenage Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) has become such a handful she's been shipped her off to boarding school.

Woodley, best known for her work on ABC Family's soapy "The Secret Life of the American Teenager," is a revelation in the role of Alex, displaying both the edge and depth the role demands. At face value, she appears to be going through a rebellious phase, but as the story unfolds, she proves to be the strong one, wiser than she appears and potentially better equipped to deal with the tragedy at hand.

The inescapable heaviness of the subject aside, "The Descendants" never descends to griefsploitation, as Payne and fellow screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash carefully select moments that reveal the characters' ever-changing emotions without wallowing in their pain. Nearly every detail sources directly back to Kaui Hart Hemmings' sensitively crafted novel, and yet, Payne's triumph is in striking the right tone -- and knowing what to leave unsaid. The near-paradisiacal setting is hardly the only irony in this scenario; there's also an unexpected amount of humor to be found in the circumstances immediately surrounding a loved one's death, and the director embraces both contradictions with due respect.

Though Payne undoubtedly ranks among the leading portraitists of American cinema, his earlier films display a semi-condescending, even judgmental attitude toward his characters. Here, the individuals are every bit as flawed, and yet the tone is refreshingly open-minded, allowing observant auds to draw their own conclusions. Take Alex's friend Sid (Nick Krause), an overgrown puppy of a kid one might be tempted to dismiss as a dim-witted pothead on first encounter. Indeed, the film milks a few laughs at his gape-mouthed expense early on, and yet later scenes reveal that Alex was smart in his choice of buddies.

"The Descendants" deals in themes universal enough that audiences will come to the table with their own life experience to draw from, and Payne intuitively understands how to leave things open enough that we can personalize the story for ourselves. With the exception of Clooney, none of his casting choices seem obvious, which further brings the world to life. The entire ensemble treads the tricky line between comedy and tragedy with aplomb, from Robert Forster (as Matt's surly father-in-law) to Beau Bridges (playing a cousin counting on the land deal going through), extending even to smaller turns from Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer.

"The Descendants" is one of those satisfying, emotionally rich films that works on multiple levels. Some will call their travel agents to book Hawaiian vacations as soon as they dry their eyes (just as "Sideways" boosted wine-tasting in the Santa Ynez Valley), while more cynical auds should find layers to engage their sensibilities as well. Of particular interest is the way Payne allows class and race to supply an interesting, albeit subtle, subtext. There's a melancholy sense of something passing, linked to Hawaii itself through the stunning mix of widescreen vistas and native music, as well as the assurance of life's essentials being preserved in the film's perfectly executed final shot.

Sabin
Laureate
Posts: 7140
Joined: Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:52 am
Contact:

Re: The Descendants reviews

Postby Sabin » Fri Sep 02, 2011 11:47 pm

I'm taking an screenwriting course at UCLA, and of course they teach you how to break down the screenplay to Sideways. Just as Potemkin is to History of Cinema, Sideways is to Screenwriting 101. The strange thing is how many people both in the class and in my periphery as I spoke to my circle of friends either hadn't seen it due to lack of interest or didn't see what the big deal is. I'm not debating the relative merits of this admittedly overrated yet very good film (in the years following the 2004, I prefer it to Million Dollar Baby; there's far more to enjoy in Payne's film, than Eastwood's), but Alexander Payne is one of those incredibly acclaimed writer/directors whose screenplays are absolutely to-the-note formula and yet public embrace has utterly escaped him. I was a little underwhelmed by the trailer for The Descendents, but if Todd McCarthy thinks it's the best film ever then that tells me it's really his most mainstream. Sight unseen, I hope it connects in a strong way if only to propel him to just make more movies. He really didn't need to take over half a decade off after a trifle like Sideways.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver

Mister Tee
Laureate
Posts: 6193
Joined: Wed Jan 01, 2003 2:57 pm
Location: NYC
Contact:

The Descendants reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Fri Sep 02, 2011 10:05 pm

George Clooney's week just took a serious turn for the better.


The Descendants: Telluride Film Review
7:02 PM PDT 9/2/2011 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line
A splendid comedy-drama about a father coping with his comatose wife and difficult daughters represents high points for George Clooney and Alexander Payne.

Alexander Payne has always impressed with his talent for injecting his studies of flawed ordinary people with unexpected warmth and comedy, but never has his knack for mixing moods and modulating subtle emotions been more evident.

After a five-year wait since Sideways, Alexander Payne has made his best film yet with The Descendants. Ostensibly a study of loss and coping with a tragic situation, this wonderfully nuanced look at a father and two daughters dealing with the imminent death of his wife and their mother turns the miraculous trick of possibly being even funnier than it is moving. George Clooney is in very top form in a film that will connect with any audience looking for a genuine human story, meaning Fox Searchlight should be able to give this a very long ride through the holidays beginning Nov. 23 and well into the new year. Toronto and New York Film Festival screenings will follow the Telluride bow.

Payne has always impressed with his talent for injecting his studies of flawed ordinary people with unexpected warmth and comedy, but never has his knack for mixing moods and modulating subtle emotions been more evident than in this adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ 2007 novel. Skillfully scripted by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rush, the tale unfolds over about a week’s time, during which many fundamentals about the life of Matthew King and his family are turned topsy-turvy.

An admittedly distant father, Matthew King (Clooney) is blindsided by his wife Elizabeth’s dreadful speedboat accident that has left her comatose. A successful real estate lawyer in Hawaii, Matthew hasn’t a clue how to deal with his sulky 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller), and when they go to fetch saucy 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley) from her boarding school on the Big Island, they are confronted by a drunken girl spouting obscenities on the beach after curfew.

Despite his shortcomings as a father and, very likely, a husband, Matthew can’t help but stir viewer sympathy, especially when the smart-mouthed Alex insists upon bringing along stoner boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) wherever they go and when confronted by his father-in-law (Robert Forster), a military type who deals with his grief over his beloved daughter by abusing everybody in his vicinity.

But the monkey wrench in the already fraught situation turns up when Alex informs her clueless dad that his wife had been cheating on him. As he so often does, Payne finds a way to augment the impact of a dramatic revelation with out-of-left field humor; in this case, he has Matthew put on some sandals and go running to the home of his wife’s best friend, his determined rush to learn the truth made giddily humorous simply by the sight of his awkward dash. Payne repeats this technique at equally critical moments, such as the denouement of the scene when Matthew finally tracks down the man who has cuckolded him.

Backgrounding the medical and emotional drama—with no hope of recovery, Elizabeth will be let go—is an expressive layer of Hawaiian history; Matthew’s family’s presence on the islands dates back to 1860 and a decision is due to be made within days about selling 25,000 actress of stunning waterfront property in Kuau’i, said to be the largest remaining such undeveloped parcel. Income from a sale would deliver a fortune to Matthew and his many relatives (including a yokel very nicely played by Beau Bridges), and a trip taken to the site by the endearingly conflicted quartet of Matthew, his girls and Sid plays a role in the resolution of this meaningful issue.

A major key to the film’s success are the nuances, fluctuating attitudes, loaded looks and tonal inflections among the main characters; the ensemble work is terrific. Despite her father’s admonitions, Alex continues to fling around dirty words, something then picked up by Scottie. Sid starts off seeming like a total dufus, always saying exactly the wrong thing, but even he gets a significant scene later on that completely changes the way he can be regarded.

The audience does get the satisfaction of Matthew’s fine confrontation with the man who screwed his wife, but this is made legitimately richer by a wonderful follow-up scene involving his wife, indelibly etched by Judy Greer.

But it’s Clooney who carries it all with an underplayed, sometimes self-deprecating and exceptionally resonant performance. He’s onscreen nearly all the time (and narrates as well) and makes it easy to spend nearly two hours with a man forced to carry more than his fair share of the weight of the world on his shoulders for a spell.

Similarly essential to the venture’s success is Woodley, who transforms convincingly from a girl who is reflexively condescending toward her father to one who becomes his eager accomplice and staunchest defender. Miller and Krause are excellent as the other members of what becomes the inner circle, and Patricia Hastie will, one hopes, one day have the opportunity to make a more expressive impression on the big screen than she does in the dramatically thankless but somehow still memorable role of the inert, bedridden Elizabeth (well, she does get a kissing scene with George Clooney, even if her character can’t feel it).

The film notably provides a most welcome untouristy view of Hawaii and everyday life on the islands, amplified by diverse weather (heavy clouds, mist and rain offset the expected sunny vistas). The soundtrack is also exceptional, consisting almost entirely of local tunes used in apt and expressive ways.


Return to “2011”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests