8 February 2012

THE DESCENDANTS (Dir. Alexander Payne, 2011, US)



Alexander Payne’s long-term writing partner is Jim Taylor. Together they received an Oscar for their screenplay to the 2004 film Sideways. The Descendants is the first film, which doesn’t feature Taylor as a writing partner, and although he does get a producers credit, it is telling because this is Payne’s weakest film to date. I saw it with a group of film students and the reactions were mixed. Some said it was well made whereas others felt it was a little contrived and lacking humour. I’ve seen The Descendants twice now and I’m pretty sure it is best viewed as a middle of the road family melodrama. Now, if we were to apply an authorial approach to Payne’s latest film then it seems plainly obvious that such a theory fails to take into account the contributions of the other so called scriptwriter. Here’s my proposition – Payne should never make a film without Taylor as a writer. The two of them work together perfectly as witnessed in the brilliance of their previous films. The Descendants is arguably an awards film as it possesses all the necessary qualities required for a Best picture Oscar; the weepie aspect, a star turn from a much loved Hollywood favourite, a relatively safe narrative, and most importantly, wider social and political issues are given the requisite simplistic and liberal treatment. Yet again this is one of those films that have been swept up in the awards euphoria and Clooney has resultantly been praised for achievements much earlier in his film career. Oddly enough, The Descendants could easily have been made as a pilot for a new HBO TV series as it ticks all the perfunctory idioms of the melodrama.

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