November 29, 2011

The Descendants

To paraphrase Dickens: "The wife is dying to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."
George Clooney's wife is in a coma, she's not going to come out of it, and his "limping towards divorce" marriage is suddenly turned upside down. A few tears, yes, but not Terms Of Endearment waterworks. Hijinks do not ensue either.
A lukewarm meditiation on death, grief, marriage, and parenthood.
A fine nuanced performance from George Clooney, and solid performances from the young cast help balance the meandering plot. It's not tragic enough to be a drama, not soapy enough to be a melodrama, and not silly enough to be a comedy. The movie never ties together tonally or thematically. It feels like the movie was allowed to wander away from director Alexander Payne. Perhaps spending nine months locked in an editing suite with your movie caused him to lose perspective?
The movie is set in Hawaii, which adds great texture, and contributes to the plot too... but Payne goes totally overboard with the Hawaiian ukelele music on the soundtrack. You know how a tourist might visit Texas for a week and believe that cowboy boots and fringed shirts are suddenly terrific-- until they get home to Connecticut and realize how dumb they look walking through Hartford looking like Roy Rogers? I picture Payne falling in love with Hawaiian music -- which is lovely in small doses -- and eventually every moment of the film is plastered with midtempo uke strumming + ululating vocals.
Shailene Woodley, 20, is fine as George's teenage daughter, but I hope the Oscar talk is just hype. If the Academy wants invent an honorary Exciting Newcomer award, great, but she's not some revelation.
The Stub Hubby Grade:  C-plus.

Stub Hubby Reviews Alexander Payne: