The Descendants, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, is adapted by writer-director Alexander Payne but without his usual morbidity and nihilism. But in losing these qualities, there are many ways in which this film feels conventional, like the Hawaiian-inspired soundtrack reminding us of the paradise that the source material may be trying to subvert.
There’s the acting, especially from George Clooney, playing the protagonist, a Hawaiian-born and bred man named Matt King, over-narrating the story’s sociopolitical ‘undertones,’ but more on that later. In one of his voice-overs, he asks his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), in a coma after a boating accident, to ‘wake up,’ even if his deadpan delivery of those words inadvertently suggests that it doesn’t matter to him either way. The acting has strong points, especially when each character is reacting towards news that Elizabeth won’t recover and has to be take off life support. When Matt hears the news from a doctor, the former surprises us with glazed puppy dog eyes. Then his older, vulnerable, seventeen year old daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) submerges her head in a leaf-littered backyard swimming pool. Then it’s someone else’s turn, Matt taking on the duties of breaking the news to her family and friends. I’m fully aware that my indifference towards these characters in a time of need makes me seem like I have a heart of stone but the fault is how the movie presents it. The repetition makes me focus on the ritualized state of mourning as opposed to the emotions within the said ritual. Either Payne or the source material doesn’t have a handle on how an event like this affects the story’s many characters, and not enough variation with the who and the how.
These road trips and rituals allow Matt to be around people who think differently on what Elizabeth, a woman with many friends, means to them. But at the same time, it’s as if these people carry the burden of Elizabeth’s loss without any of that emotion transferring to him. A stranger case is Alex’ boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause), who stays within Matt’s posse because Alex demands that she’ll be more civil throughout the ordeal. Despite of what Sid says to aggravate Matt, the former stays a few days longer to conveniently redeem himself, telling Matt his approach to take life in stride despite its difficulties and defends the old man against an older man, Elizabeth’s father (Robert Forster). It’s as if Matt’s self-described ‘back-up parent’ disposition is an excuse to keep characters unnecessarily close to him.
Elizabeth’s accident also comes within bad timing, as Matt and his cousins, friendly with each other on the outside, decide on whether and whom to sell 25,000 acres of untouched property inherited from their ancestor, King Kamehameha. This part of the story interests me more, especially with how Matt distances himself from the decision, despite being the land’s trustee. One cousin thinks the transaction is ‘sharing the land with the world.’ Matt also talks condescendingly about the need to sell because of the poorer cousins, personified by Cousin Hugh, who is played by Beau Bridges, using a cheaper version of his brother Jeff’s ‘acting intoxicated’ playbook. He and his ‘pro-sell’ cousins treat this situation smugly because his generation can get rid of a land that seems useless to them. The only dissenting voices against the sale are some cousins who aren’t given lines – those cousins are from experience, the kind who will make a bigger fuss than the placid movie allows them – and Matt’s younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) who, when hearing an anecdote from Alex about camping in the property, tells her ‘I want to camp too!’ The movie’s ending awaits for his decision that isn’t really accounted for by his reactions to the voices around him. In both family matters, Matt doesn’t seem to learn anything or change, not because of an outright refusal but because the writing doesn’t give him an option to do so.
The are instances when the movie isn’t lukewarm, the first of which involves the supporting characters talking to Elizabeth. They’re having sincere conversations with someone who can’t talk back. She’s shown in close-ups, her face wan with liver spots, her mouth wide open, the image unavoidably disconcerting yet honest. Everyone says goodbye, including a nice stranger named Julie Speer (Judy Greer). Matt’s farewell is the most poetic yet surprisingly least sincere out of all of them. The other kinds of scenes show a more realistic, Islander’s perspective of Hawaii and its roads, skyscrapers and overpopulation. A last scene shows the family on a small boat, supposedly on a Arcadian ritual until the camera switches to Matt – even from afar they can’t escape the islands’ skyscrapers. Nature is lost and so is the family’s mother, but only if these images were captured by a director and a movie that cared more about them.
I’m sorry for inflicting this movie unto you, which began Katherine Heigl‘s reign of terror of romantic comedies, making films more sexist that the ‘sexist’ Knocked Up. I tuned into 27 Dresses just when the impossibly altruistic Jane (Heigl) juggles two weddings during the same night. The Brooklyn Bridge backdrop during a montage makes it obvious that the studio didn’t want to pay real money for an on location shooting if this queen of box office flops follows her tradition.
Jane’s tricks a handful of people except for one man, Kyle Doyle (James Marsden), a marriage hater who writes for the style section of a minor league newspaper. Which, by the way, what other kind of newspapers are there in the Big Apple between the New York Times and tampon wrappers? Maulik Pancholy and Michael Scott’s girlfriend, by the way, costar as Kyle’s co-staffers. Anyway, Jane’s idealistic, he’s cynical, they bicker until the hour mark where he relents and they fall down the fuck in love.
Movies like this sets up glamorous stars like Heigl into ‘best friend’ types. Let’s dye her hair to a honey brunette so she’ll look frumpier compared to her hotter blonde sister, Tess (Malin Akerman), the latter falling in love with Jane’s boss (Edward Burns, Christy Turlington’s husband)! And what kind of person goes to the club and wears a top that makes her look like a Regency-era woman? Although I do admit that there are parts of this characterization that I believe. Heigl morphs her slender bone structure into showing us herself in her younger years, the kind of girl-turned ingenue with puffy cheeks and wore braces as a child. And there’s something about her line deliveries, a little husk in her alto voice, effectively playing a woman that’s frazzled yet witty.
And you know what? I also don’t mind the script, making its main gimmick to make Heigl look like a loser. It also allows its ensemble of B-list actors to talk on top of each other. This is the kind of movie that would be deemed a ‘classic’ had it been released in the 80’s or earlier. James Marsden’s charisma willfully distracts us from how Kyle is Jane’s terribly written foil.
Again, it’s ridiculous to have Katherine Heigl as the ‘always the bridesmaid’ type but it’s equally unfair for the talented Judy Greer to keep holding the ‘slutty best friend’ torch. She thanklessly gives the movie its dirty tongue colour – watch out for some daddy issues and sexual references from other characters too – and she slaps Heigl here, which is something, I assume, that you also want to do.
- Seriously, Another Katherine Heigl Movie?! (lessthanthreeit.wordpress.com)
“Viagra is not a drug, it’s a revolution,” says Jake Gyllenhaal as Jamie Randall, besting Vincent Karthesier’s trademark shit-eating grin. Brad Brevet thought this movie was terrible, but I’m a sucker for Spin Doctors-esque music. And both Gyllenhaal and co-star/ love interest Anne Hathaway get naked in this movie. Love and Other Drugs came out yesterday. Enjoy! 3/5.
- Love & Other Drugs (boston.com)
The narrator (Lewis Black) talks about a large family sitting on a table to celebrate their paterfamilias’ (Ron Rifkin) seventieth birthday, describing every one of the father’s children as a series of mistakes. The civility and silence break when the unemployed singer/actress/dancer Cheri (Sarah Silverman) bellows at her younger, successful brother Nathan for writing a novel, also named Peep World, too accurate for her taste. This is best scene of the film, although the scene isn’t finished.
The body of the film is a flashback eighteen hours before this dinner, unsurprisingly revealing this fictional book’s secrets and more. Jack (Michael C. Hall) has a wife (Judy Greer) who faintly swears at him during her sleep, Joel’s (Rainn Wilson)’s big SUV breaks down in the middle of nowhere, Peep World the film is filming in front of Cheri’s home and Nathan is very condescending to his PR agent (Kate Mara). Every sibling has a sexual Achilles’ heel, all used for effective comic relief.
This film also has sincere moments, like the falling out when Jack’s wife finds out he frequents an adult theatre, a scene both well-shot and well blocked. The film eventually heads to the restaurant where cruelty, revelations of decades of hurt feelings and comic reliefs are the main dishes. The cast elevates this funny film, also including Taraji P. Henson who delivers the film’s best line and Geoffrey Arend, the luckiest man on earth. This is lowbrow entertainment at its classiest and best. Rating – 3/5.