Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Descendants (Brockway) (updated)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Descendants

At last! Here is George Clooney in a role where he does more than model his five o clock shadow. Clooney plays Matt King. Matt is forced into being a Mr. Mom to his two young kids as his wife played silently from a hospital bed by Patricia Hastie ( in what must be one of the oddest portrayals onscreen) who  is comatose from a power boat  accident. 
Despite the melodramatic scenes in which Matt confronts his wife in a manner that seems a bit contrived as in a many a play, Clooney shows a sincerity of loss confusion and sad weight to his role as a sketchy father, who is clearly afraid of death. The "uh- oh here- it-comes" bedside soliloquy  is not that corny or off the mark, it just gave me a déjà vu  feeling, recalling Tom Hanks in the claustrophobic "Castaway".  George hollers and screams, frets and paces and at such moments,  I just felt a bit force-fed and manipulated. But with that said, Clooney,for the first time in his career shows original range and power and clearly expands his dramatic vocabulary. 
In my opinion Amara Miller as daughter Scottie steals the show. She is mercurial, free and shows mischievous verve that the somewhat formulaic plot needs to release it from the dirge of Heavy Drama. Miller's gleeful nonchalance appears so organic and authentically wild (just as kids are) that her scenes are doubly affecting. Miller makes it seem so easy. 
Also enjoyable is Nick Krause as Syd, a beach kid who has a wonderful spontaneity. Syd is part Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" with a dash of "Beavis and Butthead". Even though at first, he seems cartoony he emerges far from a passing doodle. Syd transforms with a discovered sympathy and he is never unfunny.The seasoned actors Beau Bridges and Robert Forster as shambled cousins capably handle their roles, although to see them here is no revelation. Both offer what the story demands. You see them as they are. Just as in a play, the characters undergo peaks and valleys of transformation. 
Last but not least, the islands of Hawaii are lovingly filmed with paradisaical brilliance. The islands hover in beauty and seem to passively exist in contrast to Matt's emotional vexation. The casual ease of the Hawaiian score existentially footnotes Matt's circumstance and appears to mock his woe. Matt is definitely  in for it here and he is missing his family lei. The Hawaiian shirts that his cousins wear seem foreign and strange, the garb of a tribal council from which he may be excluded from or terminally ostracized. 
It doesn't matter whether or not I  feel that these stories of family discontent are overused for poignancy and effect, I have a new respect for Clooney and his dramatic reach. It is no wonder that "The Decendants" has been playing at The Tropic for nearly two months with no sign of washing up on the Kauai Beach, not to mention the Oscar nominations, including one in the Best Actor category for George Clooney. This is no small thing given that his usual smugness and Mr.  Handsome smirks have gone adrift. Clooney's portrayal has offered a new paradise of indecision and panic that I hope to see again.
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