Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

06 December 2011

The Descendants

I've been going to the movies again! I am excited about it.

This weekend I got to see Alexander Payne's The Descendants, and I am pleased to report that I think this might be Payne's best movie.

To be honest, I have never really liked Payne's films. I have probably told everyone this by now, but I always think they are smug. His movies are funny and they are played for laughs, but I always think they have a tone of real meanness underneath them, as though his characters are only there for us to laugh at. And how stupid they are! And how clever we are for making fun of them! I usually feel a bit, well, icky after a Payne movie.

But, I should stop talking about this quality of Payne's films in my discussion of The Descendants, though, because the truth is, I found this film to be extraordinarily generous.

The Descendants has its share of characters worthy of ridicule, plenty of them, actually, but the film always takes a point of view that sympathizes with these characters, that can see their side of things, even when they are being stupid or ludicrous.

My own response to The Descendants was established very early on. Clooney is doing a voice-over where he explains the given circumstances of the film. He goes through information quickly, telling us what we need to know. His wife is in the hospital and he's been sitting with her for 3 weeks. She's in a coma after a head injury. He has two daughters who he's trying to wrangle. He owns a whole bunch of land that is in a trust and he has to decide how to dispose of it in a couple of weeks. He tells us all of this in a kind of flat tone. And then there is a slight pause. And he says something like "Elizabeth is gonna be alright. She's gonna wake up and it may be a long road of recuperation, but it's gonna be worth it and I'm gonna work less and spend more time at home with her and the kids and we can work on things." It is an absolutely extraordinary moment: as though if he says everything he wishes were true immediately after all of the other true things, then his wishes will all come true.

The acting is great. The film is very funny at times. There are wonderful sequences featuring Beau Bridges (!) and Robert Forster (!). I really, really liked it.