Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Sun, Sea and Soul-Searching

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Sun, Sea and Soul-Searching

Article excerpt

The idyllic island backdrop may pall but the chemistry between George Clooney and his clan ignites the film, says Will Brooker.

The Descendants

Directed by Alexander Payne

Starring George Clooney, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster and Shailene Woodley

Released in the UK on 27 January

Are you guys going to talk to me in cliches?" George Clooney demands of his friends, midway through The Descendants. He should have asked his director, Alexander Payne. Although the movie opens with Clooney's voice- over rejecting stereotypes of Hawaii as a holiday paradise, the next two hours are interspersed with glossy views of Honolulu, Waikiki and Kauai that could grace a promotional video for the islands, backed with the gentle strumming and singing of local music artists. Like tropical cocktails and leis, both of which also feature in the movie, this tourist treatment is charming at first, but its welcome wears off when each scene of dialogue or character development is followed by a leisurely stroll or drive down another sunny avenue. The camerawork, too, is oddly corny: there are slow zoom-outs, dissolves and even a wipe, a technique that was quaintly dated when George Lucas used it in Star Wars back in 1977. The flight between islands is shown through the hoary device of a map with a dotted line plotting the course. Editor Kevin Tent, who worked on two of Payne's previous films, Sideways and About Schmidt, is no novice, but it sometimes looks as if he's trying out the various transitions on Final Cut Pro.

This hammy quality is compounded by the early scenes' reliance on Clooney's voice-over. The film is adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel, and it feels as if entire paragraphs have been dropped into the script. Clooney delivers his expositional narration for minutes on end, talking to himself while providing us with chapters of background and context: "This deal will make us all very, very rich. I alone hold all the cards." The film's first half hour plays almost like an illustrated audiobook.

Clooney observes, while gazing out of an aeroplane window, that the group of scattered islands reminds him of his family, together but apart. It's a promising metaphor - perhaps exhausted by Joanna Hogg's Archipelago last year - but the shots of Hawaii remain, for the most part, attractive packaging. …

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