Three things to like about The Descendants:
1. George Clooney – In contrast with many other roles which in which George embodies style, smooth-talking and has a bunch of cool friends, George admirably pulls off the ordinary and vulnerable father. Easily likeable and by no means a perfect character (none are), but for mine his best performance and well deserving of his Oscar nomination. The supporting cast was great too.
2. Thematically, there’s heaps going on here – family, identity, parenthood, heritage, suffering, death, marriage. Marriage and family are good things when they work well, but they are hard work, complicated by our imperfections and what life throws at us. The film is honest: life is tough and complex and frustrating, largely due to people, no matter where you live.
3. The writing – the Oscar-winning adapted screenplay is funny, tragic and poetic, and no doubt owes much to the source material. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes:
- My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise, like a permanent vacation. We’re all just out here, sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we are immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our cancers less fatal, our heartache less painful?
- A family feels exactly like an archipelago, separate but part of a whole, and always drifting slowly apart.
Another Year is four seasons in the life of a happy couple while everyone else around them is unhappy. It’s a movie about ordinary life, and as such features simple scenes and sets in suburbia, and naturalistic dialog including a brilliant continuous shot of a conversation around a table, in which the actors really shine.
In his book Hollywood Worldviews, Brian Godawa argues that every story involves the concept of redemption, which he defines as “the recovery of something lost or the gaining of something needed.” I was reflecting on Another Year in terms of redemption – what did the central characters, Tom & Gerri, recover, or what did they gain? They were happy and they interacted with some friends and family and their marriage was stable throughout the seasons. How did they change?
Look for a moment at the story arcs of those around Tom & Gerri, and there’s a lot going on. Each character is dealing with their unhappiness, which they do (to varying degrees) with Tom & Gerri’s help. I wonder if Tom & Gerri’s year is more about the ‘redemption’ of those around them, rather than themselves.
Often times being family and friends doesn’t seem exciting and dealing with them can seem tedious, difficult and inconvenient. But maybe life isn’t always about our story or maximising our happiness. And maybe marriage is meant to be for something bigger than a couple’s happiness too.
And yes – Tom & Gerri’s names are the subject of a joke, even in the trailer: