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The Descendants

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Links to threads on About Schmidt (2002), Sideways (2004), Paris je t'aime (2006) and Nebraska (in development). We don't appear to have any threads on Citizen Ruth (1996) or Election (1999).

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Alexander Payne raises 'Descendants'

Alexander Payne and Fox Searchlight are reteaming on family dramedy "The Descendants," Payne's first feature since "Sideways."

Payne begins lensing in Hawaii at the end of the year or early 2010. Project isn't yet cast.

Filmmaker is in the midst of polishing Nat Faxon and Jim Rash's script, adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings' debut novel of the same name.

Set in Hawaii, "Descendants" tells the story of a wealthy landowner who takes his two daughters on a search for his wife's lover in the hopes of keeping his family together. . . .

Variety, August 10

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Ah shucks - for a moment there I got very excited thinking that someone on the board was into 80s punk group 'The Descendents'. I would have been pleasantly surprised.

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Count me as a Descendents fan. I own every album (except for Enjoy).

Edited by J.R.

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Woodley to Payne film

Shailene Woodley will join George Clooney in Alexander Payne's next pic, "The Descendants."

Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, film revolves around an attorney, to be played by Clooney, who is forced to get closer to his daughters after a family tragedy. Woodley will play the oldest daughter. . . .

Woodley can be seen on ABC Family skein "The Secret Life of the American Teenager."

Variety, February 7

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Wow. I`ve been getting sugh a mixed-to-negative vibe via Twitter etc., that I`m a bit startled to see that Glenn Kenny @ MSN Movies loves it. Like, he really REALLY loves it.

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I'm listening to Alexander Payne talk about this film on "Fresh Air," and he's just said that "Election" holds up so well because, in part, it's not "too long" -- unlike his other films. The interviewer presses him on that point, and Payne states that his films aren't too overly long, just a bit overlong.

Edited by Christian

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I'm listening to Alexander Payne talk about this film on "Fresh Air," and he's just said that "Election" holds up so well because, in part, it's not "too long" -- unlike his other films. The interviewer presses him on that point, and Payne states that his films aren't too overly long, just a bit overlong.

I think ELECTION is his best film, and Payne is correct on (part of) the reason why. It's easily his most narratively compact (all his others, great as they are bar THE DESCENDANTS, spin their wheels a bit early in the third act) and the shifting voiceovers make ELECTION feel even shorter than it is.

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Wow. I`ve been getting sugh a mixed-to-negative vibe via Twitter etc., that I`m a bit startled to see that Glenn Kenny @ MSN Movies loves it. Like, he really REALLY loves it.

I can see how THE DESCENDANTS is a divisive film; it has many moments that are going to strike some viewers as false and/or manipulative. And I also think it's a film that has a lot of moments that have such elements of comedy and tragedy that how you perceive them is largely going to be up to you (moments that I know others found to be jokes I found to be earnestly sad).

I do think THE DESCENDANTS has some contrivance on display--I don't much care for the story element about the trust and the land, which is as predictable as it gets, and some of the characters feel a bit schematic--but I do think it captures something very true-to-life about the process of a family coming to terms with this kind of betrayal and tragedy, that much of that process is inevitably mixed with other emotions than sorrow and pain.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I finally got the chance to see The Descendants this week. While it had some enjoyable moments, I was a little underwhelmed by the film--perhaps because of a lot of the high praise it is receiving? I think the points already made about the comedy undercutting the more serious moments makes sense, particularly in the scene when Matt and Speer's wife "confront" Elizabeth in the hospital. And, I wanted to be more invested than I was in what I think could have been a powerful scene--the one when Matt and his two daughters are overlooking the land passed down from their ancestors, thinking about memories of camping and memories still to be made.

I agree with Ryan that a lot depends on the individual viewer's reaction to the film given some of its ambiguity. But I've been thinking about my own reactions to it and I think part of the problem for me is that the second half of the film never really confronts what is presumably one of the film's central narrative points--namely, Matt's irresponsibility/absence as a husband and father. What led to his family becoming like "islands"? What were his flaws? Does he recognize them? What has changed about this between his wife's accident and the final scene with he and his daughters eating ice cream on the couch? I suppose the film alludes to Matt's being a workaholic, but it seems to me that the film didn't confront/develop this essential problem well enough and that this undercut the other two major elements of the story--Matt's quest to confront Speer and his decision about the land. And, because of this, it also, at times, felt like a pile-on on Elizabeth.

I think the second half of the film would have had the emotional punch it intended had it better dealt with Matt's relational stewardship. As it was, I felt like Dana Stevens over at Slate: "is that all?"

Here's a little (note: 600 words or less) column I wrote for CaPC.

Edited by Nicholas

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I liked it, but not nearly as much as the various award nominations and top 10 lists would suggest. I certainly am surprised by all the best actor stuff for Clooney. OF those whose names I'm not seeing Harrelson, Mullan, and Fiennes are all more deserving.

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I finally got the chance to see The Descendants this week. While it had some enjoyable moments, I was a little underwhelmed by the film--perhaps because of a lot of the high praise it is receiving? I think the points already made about the comedy undercutting the more serious moments makes sense, particularly in the scene when Matt and Speer's wife "confront" Elizabeth in the hospital. And, I wanted to be more invested than I was in what I think could have been a powerful scene--the one when Matt and his two daughters are overlooking the land passed down from their ancestors, thinking about memories of camping and memories still to be made.

I agree with Ryan that a lot depends on the individual viewer's reaction to the film given some of its ambiguity. But I've been thinking about my own reactions to it and I think part of the problem for me is that the second half of the film never really confronts what is presumably one of the film's central narrative points--namely, Matt's irresponsibility/absence as a husband and father. What led to his family becoming like "islands"? What were his flaws? Does he recognize them? What has changed about this between his wife's accident and the final scene with he and his daughters eating ice cream on the couch? I suppose the film alludes to Matt's being a workaholic, but it seems to me that the film didn't confront/develop this essential problem well enough and that this undercut the other two major elements of the story--Matt's quest to confront Speer and his decision about the land. And, because of this, it also, at times, felt like a pile-on on Elizabeth.

I think the second half of the film would have had the emotional punch it intended had it better dealt with Matt's relational stewardship. As it was, I felt like the fellow who offered similar thoughts for Slate: "is that all?"

Here's a little (note: 600 words or less) column I wrote for CaPC.

Yes it would seem that one of his big flaws was that he was a money driven workaholic, which the film arguably does quietly deal with, in his change of heart towards the real estate deal. The film didn't go into depth about his flaws but I would think that it certainly showed that he realized he had flaws and certain amends were made with his children. It seems to me that the film gently, quietly, and progressively showed him working through issues with his kids and becoming a more loving and responsible parent. Or at the very least trying, and realizing when his parenting probably wasn't responsible..... for example when he told his daughter that she wasn't to come with him to the adulterers cabin, but she came anyhow, and he allowed her to.

It's interesting. To some folks, some of the story may have seemed manipulative, but I think in this film some of what was being expressed was a bit under the surface of the plot. Which to me isn't really a bad thing. The film possibly did fail in the case of not touching enough on how he had failed his wife, although some of this was dealt with in his bedside "discussions" with her.

Yeah. I can see how a reaction to this film could be very individualistic. I loved it.... every bit of it, and never felt manipulated by it. Mind you I don't expect I'm as sensitive towards to a film manipulating me as some people seem to be. My wife wasn't as keen on the film, actually, for some of the reasons mentioned above, specifically it's length. The film wasn't able to draw her into the characters and story, and of course if that doesn't happen then the length becomes more noticeable. I on the other hand was riveted to the screen and could have happily sat through a bit longer running time. For various reasons it just hit the right notes for me that night. Maybe this was partially because I was pleased with the balance it had. It dealt with these issues seriously, without been too sappy, and happy endingly, but also without being too dark, depressing, and negative.

Edited by Attica

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But I've been thinking about my own reactions to it and I think part of the problem for me is that the second half of the film never really confronts what is presumably one of the film's central narrative points--namely, Matt's irresponsibility/absence as a husband and father.

I didn't feel like this was too important. The film is largely about grief and coming to terms with secrets in the wake of family tragedy, when the person who would allow you to confront those secrets is no longer available to you. We see Matt recognize his failings and make a first step toward correcting them. This is enough to satisfy the demands of the story.

Edited by Ryan H.

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But I've been thinking about my own reactions to it and I think part of the problem for me is that the second half of the film never really confronts what is presumably one of the film's central narrative points--namely, Matt's irresponsibility/absence as a husband and father.

I didn't feel like this was too important. The film is largely about grief and coming to terms with secrets in the wake of family tragedy, when the person who would allow you to confront those secrets is no longer available to you. We see Matt recognize his failings and make a first-step towards correcting them; this is enough to satisfy the demands of the story.

Agreed.

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Ryan H. wrote:

: I can see how THE DESCENDANTS is a divisive film; it has many moments that are going to strike some viewers as false and/or manipulative. And I also think it's a film that has a lot of moments that have such elements of comedy and tragedy that how you perceive them is largely going to be up to you (moments that I know others found to be jokes I found to be earnestly sad).

Yeah, this is just one of a few reasons why the film kept reminding me of About Schmidt (which also begins with a dead -- or, in this film's case, comatose and dying -- wife).

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I don't disagree with your point, Ryan, but I think the secret and the tragedy are so intimately tied to Matt's stewardship/responsibility. Part of the reason his wife was cheating on him was because their relationship had withered. And part of what the tragedy serves to accomplish is to illuminate Matt's problems, most significantly as embodied by his troubled daughters. The problem is I wanted to feel that tragedy and the subsequent hurt of the secrets along with Matt, but I didn't know him well enough. I might disagree with setting this problem aside as outside of the scope of the story's demands. I think the issue of Matt's responsibility/stewardship is raised in significant parallel ways. For instance, the film alludes to how he managed the family's money and how much "stuff" the girls would have. And, of course, there is the issue of how he will be a steward of the land that has been passed down through his family. I think these issues also tie in with what he's going to produce in future descendants--his daughters. While there's some catharsis toward the end, I don't know that the problem is identified well enough, if that makes sense.

Dana Stevens probably spells out some of the same type of issues better than I can:

The script (co-written by Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash) vaguely alludes to the character’s shortcomings as a father and husband without ever fleshing them out. If a woman’s going to cheat on George Clooney with the likes of Matthew Lillard, we’d better have a good idea of why. Was Matt a workaholic, as he claims in his opening voice-over? (We certainly don’t see him spend a lot of time practicing law.) Was he a sexually withholding husband, as his perpetually angry father-in-law (a terrific Robert Forster) obnoxiously insinuates? Virtually every moment of the film is spent in the company of this character, yet we come away not really knowing who Matt King is—not because, like Paul Giamatti’s romantic misanthrope in Sideways, he’s richly self-contradictory, but simply because he’s underwritten. Without spoiling anything, I can say that The Descendants, for all its black humor, ends on a warm but unsentimental affirmation of the primacy of family. If the rest of the movie had had the effect that it was meant to (and that I very much wanted it to), the last shot would’ve brought me to tears. But the gentle pathos of the film’s ending felt somehow unearned. It was as if Payne expected the audience to look back and marvel at all we’d been through with these characters, when it seemed to this viewer that neither we nor they had been through quite enough.

Edited by Nicholas

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"Underwritten" sums up my feelings-- not just about Matt's character-- but about the entire film, perfectly. I'm bummed. Because Sideways is one of my desert island films and Election was a great 90's comedy. And the North Shore of Kauai has long been my favorite spot on earth.

I found that for most of the film, Payne tries to make up for an almost-nonexistent script by zooming in on Clooney as he stares off in the distance silently. It would be interesting to go back and count exactly how many times he relies on this shot, but it felt to me like every scene with Matt in the first half of the film. Like ok, we get it... Matt is overwhelmed and grief-stricken.

Edited by Greg P

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I'm listening to Jeffrey's thoughts on the film on the Kindlings Muse. He says there's not a single image in the film that stuck with him.

I'd cite:

The older daughter in the pool after she hears the news about her mother -- maybe the movie image of the year for me, or right up there.

George Clooney running. Yes, it's in the ads. Great image.

Clooney kissing the wife of the man who had an affair with his own wife.

The image, set to music, of the youngest daughter receiving the news about the family's plans for her mom.

--There might be a few more, but I've seen the film only once. I do agree that it's not image-driven but dialogue-driven. Still, it has some great images in it.

Edited by Christian

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The older daughter in the pool after she hears the news about her mother -- maybe the movie image of the year for me, or right up there.

Yeah, that moment is pretty striking.

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I would like a ten-year moratorium on moments when teenagers, in moments of distress and betrayal by the adults who should be role models for them, plunge beneath the surface of swimming pools.

The Graduate did it best. But it seems like I see it once a year. As soon as that scene started, I thought, "Oh, here we go... we're gonna go under the water with her in her moments of crisis." In fact, I'd already seen it at least once already this year... in Submarine (which takes the idea all the way to the film's title).

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I'm listening to Jeffrey's thoughts on the film on the Kindlings Muse. He says there's not a single image in the film that stuck with him.

I'd cite:

The older daughter in the pool after she hears the news about her mother -- maybe the movie image of the year for me, or right up there.

George Clooney running. Yes, it's in the ads. Great image.

Clooney kissing the wife of the man who had an affair with his own wife.

The image, set to music, of the youngest daughter receiving the news about the family's plans for her mom.

--There might be a few more, but I've seen the film only once. I do agree that it's not image-driven but dialogue-driven. Still, it has some great images in it.

The running image sticks with me the most, maybe because it was in the advertising. But there's also the image of them looking in on the land from above.... of him and the daughter talking with the adulterer and his wife on the cabin's porch..... the images of the wife in the hospital bed...... of the father and daughters watching the documentary together at the end of the film. There were a few images for me.

Edited by Attica

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In the podcast, i wasn't saying that "I can't remember any visual information from the film." I was saying that there aren't any images that stick with me as particularly artful or thoughtful. Sure, it has pretty scenery. And yes, there are some very intense moments. But are there moments in which there is something very interesting going on visually... that aren't merely illustrating what's in the script?

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But there's also the image of them looking in on the land from above.... of him and the daughter talking with the adulterer and his wife on the cabin's porch..... the images of the wife in the hospital bed...... of the father and daughters watching the documentary together at the end of the film. There were a few images for me.

Seconded. Kris Tapley cited the last shot among his top shots of the year and pointed out, "The closing frame of 'The Descendants,' meanwhile, ties up its narratively warmly and succinctly with three members of a family snuggled under remembrance of another (as the blanket in the shot is the one we see in the hospital, in case you missed that)."

I had!

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For me, at least, some of the film's images tried to deliver an emotional punch that the script didn't well enough support.

I wanted to be invested with the characters in the shot of them overlooking their land together, reminiscing on past camping trips. But...I just wasn't. Clooney acted well enough, but I didn't know King well enough. And, likewise, I thought the stuff with the ancestors and the land could have worked nicely, but ultimately felt like an add-on. Too much melodrama hunting for cheater, and sometimes borderline pile-on on King's comatose wife and not enough character development.

And the line Payne likes to walk between drama and comedy felt off-key at times.

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