The Descendants (or The Descendents… or The Descandonts… spell it as you like. It’s the New Way, World Without End.) Directed by Alexander Payne (Who? Guy who did About Schmidt—awful, see accompanying review—and Sideways—palatable if cloying over a whisper of oakum, see accompanying review). Turns out he also wrote it… as he did I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, the title of which should tell you all you need to know). Starring: George Clooney; Shailene (no, I dunno what kind of name that is) Woodley; Amara (no, I dunno what kind of name that is) Miller; and—unbelievably—Beau Bridges (Woof! Somebody left the phonebook out in the rain… time for a haircut and that Stairmaster ™ ).
A young Jarhead coils to spring out of his foxhole on Tarawa and haul back in out of the jungle blackness a wounded buddy howling his agony into the night. But the grizzled sergeant in the hole with him will have none of that; it’ll expose the vulnerability of the Marine line. “You’ll have to shoot me to stop me,” snarls the kid. “That’s just what I’ll do,” comes the guttural reply, and suddenly we’re looking down the barrel of a rifle, U.S. Garand, M-1 as a banana finger flicks off the safety with that audible click known only to those who’ve unsafed a service rifle. It is alleged—alleged—that from the dark ring of shadow cast by the lip of that sergeant’s helmet across his eyes a tear is welling up, wordless testimony to the tough veteran’s compassion for a Marine who must likely die alone and in pain for the sake of his comrades. First—and far as I know—last tear ever shed (if in fact it’s there and I’ve looked a hunnert times without confirmation one way or t’other) by John Wayne on screen (Sands of Iwo Jima). Likewise Clint Eastwood manages to squeeze one out (maybe) in Line of Fire as he contemplates how, limo-side Secret Service agent that day, he might have reacted faster, taken the slug that drilled into Kennedy and perhaps saved him, us. Don’t believe Clint ever fetches up another, even when—in a big tearjerker moment—he pulls the plug on his Million Dollar Baby in the likewise-titled film of the same name as.
Comes now George Clooney, for his part about to pull the plug on a comatose cheating wife, who leaves no doubt about it as we see the tear well up in his eye socket, trickle slowly down the bridge of his perfect nose, linger a tremulous, quivering nano-second on its flawless tip, fall to the sterile sheets below now swaddling the peccant wife along with Matt King’s former and indolent existence. Whereas, I say, The Duke and The Clint would get away with it, George Clooney, for all his charm, cannot prevent this moment from being maudlin at the best, laughable at the worst, needless at any rate. We’ve just endured the way-too-long moment in which the wife of the other party forgives (chokes out the word I think three times, lest you miss it, you dummy, in the midst of her stammering, sob-wracked inconsolitude), so it’s clear enough that George/Matt is forgiving the sl who floo troubled woman, for whose betrayal we’re invited to blame George’s obsession with his work and the legacy of his Hawaiian colonialist (pfui!) family (film called The Descendants, after all, though we may well ask if it’s George/Matt the “descendant” or his daughters the “descendants” or us, actually, the “descendants” and what is our duty to the past, the future, the greenhouse, the rainforest, the flockin’ polar bears, and on and on. So the only guilty party here is the dumb Gringo (hauli in Hawaiian: “non-native Caucasian”). Anybody doubt it?
This lachrymose saga (rates as a saga since it adverts to generations gone by in endless—in case you missed it , you dummy—pans across sepia portraits of the ancestors who wrenched Hawaii from the nati indig authochth original inhabitants) follows the burgeoning awareness of distant father George Clooney that a) his wife is dying (bizarre boating accident provoked or maybe not by a superannuated surfer dude, Troy) b) his wife has cheated on him c) his daughters do not respect him yet clearly need the stability of a serious parent d) his idiot family intends to rape yet another pristine wilderness (it look anything but pristine in the final shot of “paradise,” though maybe that’s just me). Each of these calamities registers without effect on the impassive King. Still, he succumbs to rising irritation at least as he learns the identity of the man who penetrated into his bedroom, his wife… his life and identity. Eventuates that the guy may or may not have ulterior motives but for sure has a family. Ensues an inter-island (turns out that Hawaii is actually a batch of islands… who knew?) search for the malefactor in company of the two daughters, now bonding with one another and ultimately with the disaffected Dad… along with a sinuous-lipped truant, Sid, nascent surfer dude whose tortured adolescent life at the whim of the adults who define it just might make of him the only half-way interesting figure in the sad agglomeration of tear-jerker cliché tropes did I mention that we’re worried about the rape of Hawaii, too (for you crossword lovers, we actually spot a flock of nénés)?
Well, it all works out somehow (except for the wife…curious role for an ac-trice, who giggles for fifteen riant, sun-drenched, spray-flecked seconds at film’s start but then gapes motionless, open-mawed, shut-lidded, and tube-plugged in a hospital bed for the rest of the flick as emotion if not action swirls around her). The solution, satisfying to some perhaps, puts the “mellow” in “melodrama.” Everybody gets something or settles, ostensibly at least, for what he or she gets. It’s Job in Kauai. Catastrophe devolves upon the hapless (and clueless) Matt King (“king” dropped to the “mat,” in case you missed it, you dummy), who bumbles from fustration to shame to betrayal to abandonment to public execration to solitude, testified to as the camera lovingly lingers on George Clooney’s manly features set in stoic bewilderment (except for that tear, of course). The two kids register sulky alienation (Now, where would a teen-age actress go to fetch up the resource for a performance like that?), already lauded by mooing critics as “edgy” and “deep,” the elder spitting defiance in Dad’s face, the younger wise (and salty) beyond her years (anybody notice that configuration anywhere in cinee-mah lately… oh… oh… “everywhere in cinee-mah lately,” you say? oh… okay…).
Go watch Ides of March. This one’s a flick for chicks, and I don’t mean Marie flockin’ Curie, either.