Alexander Payne is one of the directors that I have come across a lot, more so recently because of the release of his latest movie in question here The Descendants(2011) but I haven't really seen any of his movies. I have been wanting to watch Election(1999) and Sideways(2004) for almost forever but still haven't watched them and About Schmidt(2002) never had that appeal to me. So, it so turned out that when I finally gotten around to watch The Descendants(2011), it was first Alexander Payne Movie I was watching. Returning after 7 years, Alexander Payne known for humane, humorous films has yet again given us extremely honest and genuine piece of art, not just in its direction but also in also in it's portrayal.
Our Descendant is Matt King, played by George Clooney. He is the sole trusty of 25,000 acres of virgin land on the Island of Kaua'i, passed down by his ancestors and which he and his extended family are planning to sell as Trust is going to lapse in few years and many members of his family are in dire need of money. Matt, like his father admirably has resisted an urge to use any money from this trust and lives solely on the money generated by his law practice. Complete story is based in Hawaii, paradise on earth. However, as Matt explains in the very beginning, does not make their lives any less suffer-able or their heartaches any less painful. Cause of his pain is his wife's accident in the motor boat which has rendered her in a comatose state. With his wife, Elizabeth, out of picture, he has to take charge of parenting his two daughters - 10 year old Scottie and 17 years old Alexandra. Problem is he has always been a 'Back-up Parent' in his own terms. Being a workaholic, he has left his wife to do the most of raising their daughters and now that he has to do it, has no freaking idea how? Scottie is a confused 10 year old who is trying to make sense of all this by ranting at school and Alex is doing all her teenager stuff - alcohol, drugs and attitude. So, these last few days of their mother's life as she is not likely to survive which hey have to spend together as family might be really difficult for them.
However, it is soon going to get steeper for Matt. After coming home, his oldest daughter Alex informs him of his wife's infidelity. Matt also learns that his wife was actually in love with the other guy and was thinking of separating from him. He later learns that the name of the guy is Bryan Speer, a local real estate agent who is vacationing on the island of Kuau'i. With this recent heart breaking news, he decides he has to see the guy his wife was going to leave him for. Not only this but he wants to look him into the eyes while telling him the terrible news of her accident. So, he and his daughters decide to take a trip to island and confront him.
If there is one thing that impressed me the most about The Descendants(2011), that is it never looses it's humour. It never goes over the top but at the same time there is always a faint edge it maintains throughout. Couple of occasions it impressed me the most. First, Clooney's Runs - one after Alex breaks him the news and another on Kuau'i beach after he spots Speer. I felt like telling him 'Run Clooney Run !! Run like a wind !!' And secondly in the end, when Judy Greer's character comes to meet Elizabeth. Both the scenes demand seriousness. However, on both the occasions some great direction by Payne makes both this scenes hilarious without loosing the seriousness of it. One more occasion where I feel like giving kudos to Payne's direction is Alex crying in swimming pool - probably this will be the image from this movie that will stay with me for quite some time. Well Done, Mr. Payne!! And for someone who has not even seen his family for a year, that ending was just perfect.
In the acting Department, even though most actors do justice to even the smallest part they play, George Clooney and Shailene Woodley run the show and with quite an authority. George Clooney looks like can not do anything wrong. With Ides of March(2011) earlier, he made a great impression as director. Here, he is brilliant in this lead role. He is been getting lot of attention from various awards and is almost certain to get nominated for Oscars. I wouldn't be surprised if he wins too though he should have tough competition from Brad Pitt (Moneyball(2011)) and Jean Dujardin(The Artist(2011)). Similarly, Shailene Woodley does an equally tremendous job of playing his older daughter Alex. I have never seen The Secret Life of the American Teenager but she does have a real talent. I wrote in my post about SAG Nominations that they missed a beat when they failed to nominate her in Supporting Actress role and I stand by it firmly. Though she does have a strong competition in the category from Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer for The Help(2011), her Oscar nomination will definitely be justified. Apart from them many actors do justice to the smaller roles they play - Amara Miller as Scottie, Nick Krause as Sid and Robert Forster as Elizabeth's Father.
Even though I have not seen any other film by Alexander Payne, I believe what he is known for is making realistic characters. Well, that might just be the best attribute of The Descendants (2011). All the characters talk like normal people, they behave like normal people. They all have their flaws but the they have their moments as well. Best example of this is character of Sid. In first couple of scenes, he comes across as a stupid moron who can be used as a comic side relief at best. However, later with a scene of his discussion with George Clooney, Payne gives his character a much needed depth. All the characters are genuinely human and honest and that is why even Speer's character does not come as a villain. Even he is just another guy, maybe he did something wrong, but who doesn't? Of all the movies I have seen this year, with the exception of Martin Scorsese, there is no other director who deserves Oscar more than Alexander Payne for this. It is just nice to see a movie where all the characters have their hearts in the right place.
Rating(out of 5):