Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.
Costume designer Willa Kim, set creator Dana Kenn and fight expert Rick Sordelet, allege they have yet to be paid for their work on the $1 million (£666,700) production.
Director and co-producer Paul Alexander has assured the group Dracula bosses are dealing with the discrepancy, telling the New York Post, "All of the designers did a wonderful job on the show, and it was a pleasure to work with them. I realise they have some concerns, but we are doing all we can to resolve the situation. Everyone will be paid."
But the designers fear they will lose out altogether as the show faces closure following a disastrous opening night on Wednesday (05Jan11), when it was panned by critics.
One reviewer described the performance as "horribly anaemic", while a New York Daily News writer dismissed the production as "elaborately tacky, unintentionally hilarious and totally bloodless".
Kenn tells the Post, "We're unwitting investors in a flop."
Dracula bosses are expected to cut their losses and close the show as early as this weekend (08-09Jan11).
The stage adaptation of Bram Stoker's horror classic has been troubled for some weeks - actress Thora Birch was fired from the cast in December (10), days before the first preview performance, after the director fell out with the star's father, Jack.
Emily Bridges replaced Birch as the love interest of Dracula, played by Italian actor Michel Altieri, while Tony Award winner George Hearn starred as his nemesis, Dr. Van Helsing.
The American Beauty star was preparing to make her New York stage debut as central female character, Lucy Seward, the love interest of Count Dracula, in a preview performance at the Little Shubert Theater on Tuesday (14Dec10).
But producers have decided to unveil the show without her, reports the New York Times.
Director Paul Alexander said Birch was fired because her manager/father, Jack, had threatened another actor during a rehearsal last Thursday night (09Dec10), prompting her dismissal on Friday (10Dec10).
He has denied making any threat.
Meanwhile the actress admits she has been "blindsighted" by her dismissal.
She tells the newspaper, "For three weeks I was just doing my thing, and everything I hear was positive, that the work I was doing was wonderful. Maybe it's some kind of misunderstanding. I mean, there had been no tensions, everything was going wonderfully. Then Friday they just asked me to leave the building.
"I'm totally in a state of shock over this, I still can't believe it."
Birch has been replaced by her understudy, Emily Bridges, the daughter of actor Beau Bridges.
Dracula is scheduled for a 13-week run, starring George Hearn as vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing.