Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Descendants

Hawaiian music and Hawaiian shirts — these are the two things that attracted me to ‘The Descendants’. They tell me Hawaiian shirts are not in fashion anymore, I don’t care. And I did not understand a single word of the music played in the background, but it was fantastic. Hawaii is the place; it has a distinct identity, and considering the fact that it’s a part of the United States, it’s a big deal.

I came to ‘The Descendants’, with loads of expectations. The film has been counted as one of the 10 best films of 2011. The film has won the Best Picture ‘Drama’ Golden Globe. It has been nominated for several Oscars, including best picture, best actor for George Clooney, and best director for Alexander Payne. This is Payne’s first film after ‘Sideways’ (2004), for which he won an Oscar for best screenplay. There was a lot of love for that film as well; I could not finish watching Paul Giamatti take a road trip, drinking wine.

That way, ‘The Descendants’ is an engaging watch, though little cold at places. The Hawaii backdrop serves well; it almost like a character in the drama, and Clooney is great in a very understated way; this is the same man who was once the sexiest man alive; he plays the cuckolded single dad of a teenage daughter perfectly. And as the teenager, Alexandra, Shailene Woodley, is marvellous. There is a scene; she is swimming when her father tells her that he mother is dying, she had fight with her the last time they had met, and, she is devastated. She goes underwater and the camera looks at her expressions underwater. Absolutely brilliant. But it’s the supporting characters who surround these the father-daughter duo who add colours to the proceedings. They bring forth the essence of Hawaii to the story; and it is because of Hawaii this tale of a family crisis finds special resonance.

Mat King (George Clooney), a lawyer, is the descendant of the one of the first white families in Hawaii, who married a Hawaiian princess and received a lot of land as dowry. Now, the family has sprawled and while some of their cousins have squandered their money and land, King, following his father, has tried to hold on to it, so far, as trustee of a large chuck of pristine Hawaiian land worth crores of dollars. Now, time has come to part with the land, and he is more than willing to do so. Then tragedy strikes, and his wife, who had grown apart in the last few years, meets with a boating accident and goes into coma. Now, King is faced with taking care of two daughters, 17 years old Alex and 10 years old Scotties, both with their own issues, and King has no clues how to deal with them. To top that the doctors are pulling the plug on his wife, Elizabeth, and to top that, King finds out that Elizabeth was cheating on him. How much a man can take, even in a wonderful place like Hawaii?

From here on the film follows these three strands of the plot, the land deal, the absentee father bonding with his children, and a husband dealing with his dying wife’s philandering, comes to an cohesive end in a very quiet Alexander Payne way. Clooney has been nominated for best actor for his role and he deserves the nod; how a Hollywood star underplays a role, there’s no shouting, there’s no dramatic confrontations, nothing dramatic on a movie star scale, just small quiet conversations, even when he meets his wife’s lover.

Okay, all these were great. But, what was my problem with the film? I don’t know. I liked the film. It was very involving. But, somehow, I could not go deeper. I really cannot explain it.

The film is based on a novel by Hawaiian author Kaui Hart Hemmings, which I am sure would have more depth.

Writes Roger Ebert:
And George Clooney? What essence does Payne see in him? I believe it is intelligence. Some actors may not be smart enough to sound convincing; the wrong actor in this role couldn't convince us that he understands the issues involved. Clooney strikes me as manifestly the kind of actor who does. We see him thinking, we share his thoughts, and at the end of "The Descendants," we've all come to his conclusions together.

The Complete Review Here.
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