Friday, February 17, 2012

Smash Cuts: The Descendants

It has been a while, friends. I have been watching a ton of films in preparation for awards season, and the hectic life of grad school has once again caught up with me. When you spend the majority of your day writing for pleasure, sometimes you need a break. But breaks are for pleasure too, right? So while I continue to go through films that I won't have the time to give proper reviews of, I figured I would test out some capsule reviews and thoughts about what I am watching. Starting off with the latest from Alexander Payne:

The Descendants (Payne, 2011)

Hawaii isn't just some paradise where we go to forget all of our troubles. It's a place with actual (beautiful) people with real world problems. Sometimes when we are looking down the gun we don't stop to consider that the gun might actually just be looking back at us. We can't run away from our problems, despite how goofy George Clooney may make that particular action seem. We have to actually run to the problems, face them head on. Sometimes it's hard to know whether we should care about our comatose wife who needs the plug pulled, our bratty kids, or that multi-million dollar land deal. See, we're not so different after all.

But it's hard to escape the mystique of Hawaii, the languid pacing and desire for escape in the face of Real World Problems. George Clooney is here to make this foreign land, still all too familiar, too human, more digestible. It's fitting that most of his biggest moments (and all the characters really) come when he's speaking, essentially, to a corpse. Like Michael Clayton before it, all the other actors basically become lifeless corpses under even Clooney's greatest efforts at restraint. Shailene Woodley tries to meet him, but despite my greatest efforts to get lost in those eyes she is eventually absorbed into Clooney's all encompassing charisma machine. Really, is there any difference between here and Judy Greer? The audition tapes are recorded, the conflicts are personalized, and as Morgan Freeman reminds us: every year we would do well to take a similar journey even if the hope for transcendence washes farther and farther away each time.

Rating: ***/*****


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© 2011 Richard James Thorne

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