Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Yellow Handkerchief

I must confess this movie caught my eye on Netflix because the director is Indian: Udayan Prasad. The name didn't ring a bell, but I wanted to see what he did with William Hurt and a mainstream American script.

Turns out, plenty.  Hurt carries the movie, with dead-on, laconic blue-collar authenticity.  Maria Bello as his love interest and Kristen Stewart and Eddie Redmayne as the two confused, lost, searching teens are perfect.  We have met all of these characters before, but they are nonetheless individual and alive.

Prasad previously directed My Son The Fanatic (Om Puri as a straying Muslim immigrant in London), which was also done well, but this material is more challenging for being so rooted in Americana.  The road trip through the Louisiana byways is so iconic it feels like the 1950s; he pulls it off without cliches.

The ending is a bit tame, but what the movie is going for is not grit but heart, and does so well.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Descendants

George Clooney's in a perfect storm again -- but this time a domestic one.  His wife's in a coma, forcing him to become primary parent to his daughters, including his rebellious teen; his wife was in fact cheating on him before her accident; and he has to decide whether to sell pristine ancestral Hawaiian land to real-estate developers.

The film is surprisingly intelligent and humane for mainstream Hollywood fare, and no doubt will be an Oscar contender etc.  But maybe that is why some of its flaws are just a tad bit more obvious.  The first is that the Clooney character is supposed to be a workaholic, an indifferent husband and father before his wife's accident -- but we never get to see that, only hear about it.  Thus we catch him only on the upswing, as he does an amazing job with his crises and emerges heroic and whole.   Much has been made in the press of Clooney foregoing his star appeal and glamour to play against type -- but in fact, there is little risk taken here.  He always looks like George Clooney, and wins in the end.

More fundamentally, his daughters capitulate to him far too easily, with his teen (Shailene Woodley) rapidly becoming his confidante and partner in crime; it's here that the film comes closest to being a Lifetime after-school special.

And finally, like all movies of this type, Hawaii is in the end just gorgeous backdrop.  There is a crucial issue at stake -- a white descendant of Hawaiian monarchy has to decide whether or not to sell a piece of paradise.  He makes the right choice, and utters a couple of politically-correct sentences; but there is little else of Hawaii here -- few, if any, Hawaiian actors or language, and little hint of the Hawaii beyond the tourist view.

A good script, good acting, good direction, but in the end not filling.
Dec 2011