Friday, January 20, 2012

The Descendants

A moment of beauty in Alexander Payne's The Descendants
 **** out of ****

The Descendants is a movie that feels very honest. I don't know how to describe it. Considering how it is a family drama that deals with tragedy, I really like how it dodges becoming overly sentimental. I also like how it's quirky bitter edge never betrays the seriousness of the film's story and characters with needless cynicism. 

A Hawaiian father (George Clooney) has an enormous amount of responsibility through juggling a family-inherited land decision, rekindling with his children, and a wife in a coma. Things get more complicated and the movie drifts with the main character into a world of emotional confusion. We are with him empathizing and rooting for him through his struggle to stay rational.

Alexander Payne is well-known for bitter drama comedies like Election and Sideways. Ignatiy Vishnevetsky points out that most of his films aren't as evolved as this one because everyone is a caricature except for the protagonist. I might have to agree with one. I like Payne's work but sometimes it has a 'everyone's stupid or crazy except for me' kind of alienating theme going on. I feel like The Descendants thankfully more mature than that. There is even a character in it who seems to be the dopey comic relief and turns out to be more human than you thought. 

I have always enjoyed Payne's ability to show people as their plain believable selves. They look so far away from the way we have come to expect people to look in the movies. He avoids glamour or reserves it for the appropriate characters while everyone else looks like people might in your family picnic video: loosely dressed for comfort, past their prime, and maybe not perfectly in shape. He inhabits the Hawaiian setting with very ordinary people and there is still a magical charm about the location and the music in the film that gives it such pleasant character. 

This movie is very slow paced and I think it worked quite well that way. I really can't think of a damn thing wrong with this movie. 

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