I suppose that Payne's latest might be his weakest for me (in a virtual dead heat with About Schmidt). That's faint condemnation in such heady company though. With the help of Phedon Papamichael, he's really grown as a visual filmmaker, with some great 2.35 compositions and the best evocation of place that I can recall this year. Clooney seems like a shoo-in for Best Actor. It's not a showy performance, but he gets to play a complicated range of emotions, internalizing many of them, and never relying on the eyebrow acting of his early roles. It was Shailene Woodley's performance as the take-charge older daughter that was the most winning for me. Robert Forester is great in his tiny role too. The weaknesses in the film all stem from the by-the-numbers script by former Groundlings Nat Faxon and Jim "Dean Pelton" Rash. Payne did a rewrite, and while he's made the characters his own, it doesn't have the same meandering narrative charm of Sideways or Election, the best films he wrote with his own Izzy Diamond, Jim Taylor.
It's quite predictable and doesn't really have much new to say, but I suppose it's still among the better films this released this year. That says more about the quality of its competition than anything else, but old-fashioned, well-crafted, expertly-acted stories for grownups are rare enough that it's still worth appreciating.
Whuck? Could it be possible that I mildly disagree with Jeff on something? This feels feels weird and unsettling.
I should probably state that I'm a huge fan of Election
and consider it to be one of the strongest movies created during the 90s (so Jeff and I are on the same page on that one, which reassures me I'm not insane). Meanwhile, I'm not that big a a fan of About Schmidt
, mostly because I thought the former was kind of mundane at times, while the latter was kind of heavy-handed at key moments.
Oddly, The Descendants
succeeded for me largely because it's so relaxed and at ease with itself. Perhaps I enjoyed the film due to my fairly low expectations, but I guess I enjoyed it because it's so incredibly lazy (a characteristic that former??? forum member Leo over at NotComing
sort of derides the film for - again it's mildly unsettling that I disagree with him), which I thought was completely fitting for a film that's largely about an inert man that has become comfortable with being inactive within his own life. That's due mostly to the relative-comfort of his lifestyle, which basically allows him to delay important decisions and avoid confronting the problematic elements of his existence.
As Leo points out in his review, the film is littered with a number of typical filmmaking methods normally associated to "lazy" or conventional filmmaking, which I admit were kind of disconcerting at first, but as the film progresses, these same filmmaking "crutches" seem to fit the subject matter perfectly, since Clooney's character really needs all the support he can get to finally take some decisive actions, no matter how clumsily he executes them. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Payne is making some sort of meta-comment on the nature of filmmaking (though I do often make that assumption), because he's really not that type of filmmaker, but he's certainly figured out what's suitable for his central subject.
Truthfully, a great deal of the film dwells in what a lot of observers might label as "white-people-problems", but it's treatment of it's characters and conflicts still feels organic and generally respectful towards the characters and their community. Of course, what I do agree completely with Jeff on is that I really think the film succeeds mostly due to its humor and the performances of it's major cast, particularly Clooney and Woodley (warning: unsolicited details of minor encounter with a minor celebrity ahead - she is surprising tall in person, which I figured out since she stood beside me in line for Martha Macy May Marlene
at TIFF). I know Leo also had some issues with the humor derived from the sexuality of the daughters within the film, but I thought Payne found the humor in a way that remained respectful of the actresses and characters involved, mostly because it feels fairly natural for kids that age and in those circumstances (absentee parents or lack of supervision from the remaining parental figure).