this is a gem
Because with the inclusion of Clooney you expect a big double-barreled blockbuster; and with Fox Searchlight and Alexander Payne, you expect nuance, subtlety, performances.
Unexpectedly, the movie is nuanced and comes at you…sideways. Like Sideways, it’s a journey through revelation of self/character, rather than ‘things happening’. In many ways, it felt very much like another favourite of mine, the quirky Little Miss Sunshine.
In this case, Max King (Clooney) has to deal with big issues: his wife is in a coma and dying, leaving him with 2 very disconnected daughters. He has big decisions to make about the future of the trust he administers, which owns a huge, untouched chunk of Kauai. He is the sole trustee of this land, handed down through Hawaiian royal history. On her deathbed he discovers his wife was not who he thought she was.
All this unfolds at a gentle pace – the soundtrack and sound effects of this movie are most definitely indie-feeling: no kerpow, or bang, but lots of silences and gentle Hawaiian folk music.
The focus is on Max leaving his comfort zone, and building unexpected relationships with his daughters.
What’s signature Payne about this movie is it can’t decide if it’s a tragedy, comedy, or drama. It’s mostly quiet and serious with gem-like moments of funny. Because life is like that.
That’s the main thrust of the movie, set up right in the beginning.
Life is life, no matter who you are, where you are, there are obstacles and hurdles, good moments and bad – everyone has their journey.
George Clooney, no matter how much they try to unglam him and make him look like an average middle-aged man, is still George Clooney. George Clooney in a bad outfit. George Clooney with bad hair. George Clooney looking tired. But still, iconic George Clooney.
What surprised me was his ability to convey tragic pain, sadness, mundanity, confusion, devastation. Because you know, glitzy George of the red carpets should be immune from that right? Which again leads back to the central premise : life is life, no matter who you are.
I could not forget that it was George Clooney playing Max King. But then, when I read the script, I cannot imagine anyone OTHER than George playing Max.
There are some fabulous performances in this movie. In fact, I can’t think of a single character that wasn’t authentic, real, gem-like and absolutely necessary.
Outstanding for me, Shailene Woodley as daughter Alex – all coltish and gorgeous and YOUTH. Overwhelming, intoxicating youth. Foul-mouthed, wayward, lost – and suddenly found with a new relationship with dad.
Younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is also pitch-perfect: young, influenced by her older sister, sassy, slightly lost, totally unself-conscious.
Sid, played by Nick Krause, is an absolute delight. Annoying, perfect, necessary – what a great character.
Another standout was Judy Greer as Julie Speer. Totally arresting.
The director was absolutely right not to get distracted by the Hawaii issues – the movie is really only about the Haoles (whites) of Hawaii, not the locals, the Chinese, Japanese… as Max King himself realises
Even though we’re haole as shit and go to private schools and clubs and can’t even speak pidgin, let alone Hawaiian, we still carry Hawaiian blood, and we’re still tied to this land. And our children are tied to this land. It’s a miracle that for whatever bullshit reason 150 years ago, we own this much of… paradise, but we do. ..
The Hawaii of this movie is not the NaPali coastline, outrigger canoes, volcanoes and all those images we’re used to. Occasionally we get a glimpse of what it would be like to really live in Hawaii – not vacation in Hawaii. Nonetheless, Hawaii is a very real part of this movie.
Right after the movie ended I knew I liked it. A day later, I realise it’s crept under my skin, with all it’s quirks and nuances and real/funny/life observations and I totally love it.
Really finely-balanced, finely-tuned, just the right amounts of everything – a gem of a movie.