Clooney Seeks Redemption As Regretful Patriarch In Dysfunctional Family Drama
Attorney Matt King (George Clooney) traces his lineage back to the 19th Century marriage of the last Hawaiian monarch to a European missionary. Today, as the family patriarch, he’s been kept very busy by having to manage 25,000 acres of prime real estate on behalf of the extended clan.
Hence, he and his sorely neglected his wife, Liz (Patricia Hastie), have drifted so far apart that he’s unaware of her carrying on an affair practically right under his nose. To add insult to injury, her lover is the local realtor (Matthew Lillard) who stands to make a fortune in commissions should Matt follow through with tentative plans to sell all the property in the trust to a developer.
Meanwhile, emotionally unavailable Matt has also grown distant from his two daughters. 10-year-old Scottie (Amara King) has no qualms about giving her dad the finger, and her equally rebellious teenage sister, Alex (Shailene Woodley), has taken to using drugs and dating boys a lot older than herself.
Everything changes the day Liz is left in a coma by a boating accident. Shaken out of the doldrums by the tragedy, Matt vows on the spot to be a better husband and father. But when the doctor’s dire diagnosis indicates that Liz is unlikely to emerge from a vegetative state, the best he can do is try to repair the relationships with his girls.
This is the engaging point of departure of The Descendants, a dysfunctional family drama based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ debut novel of the same name. Directed and adapted to the big screen by Oscar-winner Alexander Payne (for Sideways), the film stars George Clooney cast against type as a Prodigal parent filled with overwhelming regret, a far more introspective soul than the freewheeling bachelors and bon vivants he ordinarily gets to play.
Unfortunately, he fails to cultivate the requisite gravitas to convince you that Matt has indeed been deeply affected by his wife’s imminent demise or that his decision to spend quality time with his kids is heartfelt. The problem is that, as narrator, he often merely informs the audience of his feelings via voiceover, as opposed to displaying the claimed character development via observable facial expressions.
That being said, even if Clooney is the picture’s weak link, the rest of the ensemble cast turns in such splendid performances that they more than make up for his slight failings. Making it even more worthwhile is how it all unfolds against the visually captivating backdrop island of Kauai.
A touching enough to recommend tale about an absentee father’s belated, if bittersweet, quest for redemption.
Excellent (4 stars).
Running time: 115 minutes.
Eames: The Architect & The Painter
First Run Features
Reverential Biopic Chronicles Career Of Legendary Designers
Who would have ever predicted that Charles Eames (1907-1978), an architecture school dropout, and Ray Kaiser (1912-1988), an abstract artist who rarely painted, would join forces to spearhead a movement in modern design back in the ‘40s? But that is precisely what transpired after they married in 1941 and moved to Venice, California, where they opened an office and began creating a new style of furniture blending art and industry.
As Charles put it, “We wanted to make the best for the most for the least.” And based upon that utopian dream of providing high-quality, low-cost goods for all, they proceeded to mass-produce a variety of items, starting with their popular plywood lounge chair. Over the years, the Eames’ empire would expand to include everything from photography and films to toys and games to houses and interiors.
A real Renaissance man and woman, they tackled projects as far afield as a splint for wounded soldiers, a solar-powered, do-nothing machine for Alcoa, and the IBM pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Yet, each new invention was still somehow stamped with the iconoclastic couple’s trademark, courtesy of their wild, whimsical approach to design.
Narrated by James Franco, Eames: The Architect & The Painter chronicles not only Charles and Ray’s storybook career, but also offers an intimate peek into their private life as well. Via a mix of archival footage and interviews with friends and colleagues, it is easy to discern that their affable public personas masked a deep desire for the privacy they routinely retreated to together. A funny sequence in the film features a disappointed dinner guest recalling having once been served an arrangement of inedible flowers instead of dessert by his eccentric hosts.
We also learn that, despite Ray’s letting Charles take all of the credit for their accomplishments as was generally expected of women in pre-feminist times, the legendary pair contributed an equal amount of brain power to the enterprise. In terms of accusations leveled by critics that they were too commercial, the Eames never saw themselves as selling out to big business, but rather as using corporations as a means of making beauty and taste available to the average person.
Another factoid worth highlighting is how Charles hated contracts, preferring to seal a deal with a handshake. Plus, the eclectic documentary is stocked with a number of catchy Eames aphorisms like, “Never delegate understanding!” And, “Eventually everything connects!”
Congrats to co-directors Jason Cohn and Bill Jersey for fashioning a fascinating biopic as offbeat, engaging and readily accessible as their endlessly-inventive subjects.
Excellent (4 stars).
Running time: 84 minutes.
OPENING THIS WEEK
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening December 2, 2011
Answers To Nothing (R for violence, profanity, nudity and graphic sexuality). Lost souls saga, set in L.A., about a miserably-married woman (Elizabeth Mitchell) too desperate to have a child to confront her philandering husband (Dane Cook) about his infidelity. With Barbara Hershey, Julie Benz and Kali Hawk.
The Big Fix (Unrated). British Petroleum exposé uncovering the corruption at the root of the ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico triggered by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig.
Caitlin Plays Herself (Unrated). Offbeat finale in Joe Swanberg’s meandering Mumblecore trilogy (along with Silver Bullets and Art History) revolves around a Chicago performance artist (Caitlin Stainken) whose boyfriend can’t get over her appearing naked onstage during a play about the BP oil spill. Cast includes Frank V. Ross, Spencer Parsons and Megan Mercier.
Coriolanus (R for graphic violence). Ralph Fiennes stars in the title role of this modernistic reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s classic play about a banished Roman general who enters an unholy alliance with a sworn enemy (Gerard Butler). With Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Chastain and Brian Cox.
Grandma, A Thousand Times (Unrated). Impressionistic biopic about feisty Fatima el Ghoul, an aging widow from Beirut who finds herself facing her own mortality while being haunted by the silence in her home since the passing of her violinist husband. (In Arabic with subtitles.)
I Am Singh (Unrated). Mistaken identity drama about the trials and tribulations of a young Sikh (Gulzar Chahal) who comes to America from India in search of justice for innocent family members harmed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. With Rizwan Haider, Puneet Issar and Amy Rasimas and Tulip Joshi.
Kinyarwanda (Unrated). Character-driven ensemble drama, directed by Alrick Brown, revisits the genocide in Rwanda from the perspectives of a variety of people affected by the conflict. With Cassandra Freeman, Cleophas Kabasita and Mutsari Jean. (In English and Kinyarwanda with subtitles)
Knuckle (R for profanity and violence). Fight club documentary, shot over a 12-year period and narrated by Ian Palmer, chronicling the clandestine Irish tradition of brutal, bare-knuckle boxing.
Outrage (R for violence, profanity and brief sexuality). High body-count revenge flick about a mob boss (Takeshi Kitano) who becomes bent on vengeance after his henchman’s (Jun Kunimura) defection to a competing crime family. (In English and Japanese with subtitles.)
Shame (NC-17 for explicit sexuality). Erotic drama, set in Manhattan, about a sex-addicted bachelor (Michael Fassbender) whose life spirals out of control after his mentally-unstable younger sister (Carey Milligan) stirs up memories of their painful past when she moves in with him. Cast includes Hannah Ware, Nicole Beharie and James Badge Dale.
Sleeping Beauty (Unrated). Aussie drama set in Sydney ostensibly inspired by The House Of Sleeping Beauties and revolving around a passive college coed (Emily Browning) whose part-time job involves being sedated so perverts can paw at her limp, naked body. With Rachael Blake, Ewen Leslie and Peter Carroll.
A Warrior’s Heart (PG for off-color language, sports action and mature themes). Surrogate dad drama about a grief-stricken teen (Kellan Lutz) who starts acting out after his father dies fighting in Iraq until one of his dad’s Marine buddies (Adam Beach) takes an interest in him. With Ashley Greene, Chord Overstreet and Gabrielle Anwar.