Critics and journos are spilling over with praise for Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (Nov. 23) at Telluride this weekend, which gives it lots of Oscar buzz. And I’m sure it isn’t merely the bucolic beauty of the surroundings or the fact that George Clooney was there with Payne (a critical darling since his last film, Sideways), flashing his movie star charisma like a polished Presidential contender at Iowa or New Hampshire. The Descendants has been earmarked for Oscar ever since it was announced. Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, Clooney plays an indifferent real estate lawyer Matt King forced to reconnect with his two daughters and confront his demons after a boating accident puts his wife in a coma. And the Hawaiian setting serves as a volatile metaphor for all the pent up emotions (shot by Phedon Papamichael, who also worked on Sideways).
And the early returns suggest a funny, quirky, and reflective film about repression, change, responsibility. Just the kind of indie prestige film critics flock to and the Academy craves, especially in this 10th anniversary of 9/11. Yes, I believe that’s going to be the cultural undercurrent this season.
“Payne’s heartfelt comedy about a father and his two daughters facing the death of his comatose wife manages to sidestep the pitfalls of the weepie,” writes Anne Thompson. “Articulately narrated by Clooney’s Matt King, a sad sack real estate lawyer in Hawaiian shirts and kakis who considers himself ‘the back-up parent, the understudy,’ the movie is full of characters who are hiding deep emotion…”
“But The Descendants is about more than one’s own personal journey of self-discovery; it is about selflessness, and how most of us are really here not to polish our own knobs 24/7 but to look out for others, especially those we’re responsible for, those we’re leaving behind,” effuses Sasha Stone.
Can’t wait to see it myself and chime in with my personal observations and interview coverage.