10 January 2012

The Descendants

Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Full credits at IMDb

One of the many, many things that irked me about this movie was that, despite some shallow trappings, it wasn't about Hawaii at all—it was merely set there; the archipelago's greatest functions were to provide an ironic counterpoint to the narrative's tribulations, and as weather for a comedy of casual dress. (Oh, and to allow Clooney to explain how "archipelago" is a metaphor for his family!) I got the sense that Hemmings' novel likely drew a sharp allegorical connection between Clooney's wife's death-state and Hawaiian history, but the screenwriters can hardly be bothered to establish it, despite that opening monologue and the retained title. Hey, maybe if there's a late-act speech or something it'll all become clear? But this failure just highlights a larger problem: the movie's lazy loyalty to its source material. Every year has such shit adaptations—last year, it was Never Let Me Go; the year before that, The Lovely Bones and The Time Traveler's Wife—that, in a misguided attempt to honor the original prose (usually through voice-over), spend too much time telling what should be shown, expend too much effort underlining what should be left implied—or, conversely, skipping over essential information in order to hit plot points. If Payne esteems Hemmings' book, he should have just reread it; this movie does nothing but demean it. (Unless it's bad, in which case he simply does it no favors.) The movie ends up structured as a series of meaningful conversations piled on top of each other—airings of grievances, comings to terms—that highlight the personal at the expense of any enriching, grander historical meaning, and give a lot of supporting actors (Robert Forster, Judy Greer) a chance to mug for Oscars...

Keep reading my conversation with Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine

Watch the trailer: