Alexander Payne is one of my least favourite American directors, having sampled two of his films About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004). In the first film Jack Nicholson plays a cantankerous widower who senses that life has passed him by, and makes a cross-country trip in a large motorised camper van to visit his daughter. In Sideways two friends embark on a tour of the California vineyards prior to one of them getting married. Both are comedy dramas but I’m afraid neither where particularly funny nor dramatic. Maybe it’s more a reflection on my sense of humour and dramatic sensibilities than the fault of the director, but his latest Honolulu filmed comedy drama The Descendants (2011) is no better! It stars George Clooney, a role I’m sure he could play in his sleep, as Matt King a very wealthy and powerful Hawaiian lawyer with a wife in a coma, two daughters, the youngest living at home the other with a drink and drug at a private school. The story is basically two fold; our lawyer is the sole executive trustee of a huge piece of naturally beautiful land, which the local Hawaiians do not want sold to an unscrupulous land developer, an act that will make an already wealthy family dynasty even wealthier. The main crux of the story is about his wife Elizabeth who is on a life support machine following a speedboat accident. It turns out that dear Elizabeth has been cheating on poor Matt and before her life threatening mishap was planning to leave her husband and abandon her two children.
The emotional strength tied up in Kaul Hart Hemmings story should have been enough to pin you to the back wall of the cinema and not let you go for two hours but this subdued overindulgent movie did nothing of the kind. Why it won Best Adapted Screenplay at the disappointing 2012 Academy Awards for something that was afraid to show feeling? Can’t help but wonder what a superior job Thomas McCarthy would have made of it, now there’s a man who can direct a heartfelt comedy drama.