When I heard that Alexander Payne’s next film was going to be starring George Clooney, what I was picturing didn’t look anything at all like what we get in the new trailer for The Descendants. Payne is a director who finds inspiration in the mundane. He casts regular looking people and shoots them in real life settings. There is always a relatably human element to the way he presents his characters, but there’s a sort of mocking, exploitive undercurrent as well. His films can be funny, but the humor is dark, it comes from exploring the baser nature of the human animal. Whether it’s an alcoholic Paul Giamatti drinking the spit bucket at a wine tasting in Sideways, a thrifty Jack Nicholson cutting corners on his wife’s funeral in About Schmidt, or a perverted Mark Harelik seducing a teenage girl with a Diet Mug Rootbeer in Election, Payne has always presented us with characters that you couldn’t 100% sympathize with.
So what is going on with this trailer for The Descendants? Rather than playing things as naturalist or understated, Clooney seems to be in full on Oscar grubbing mode running, yelling, crying, and dropping to his knees dramatically. This is a far cry from the quirky work he does with other artier directors like the Coens. The setting, far from the bleak, workaday world of the Midwest that Payne usually presents, is the gorgeous vistas and views of Hawaii. The main character, a man reconnecting with his daughters and learning he’s been a cuckold after his wife gets in a boating accident, seems way more sympathetic than Payne’s usual leading man cads. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this movie looks bad; it just seems to me that for Alexander Payne the whole thing looks far too… earnest. I’ve liked everything he’s done to this point, and I think Clooney can deliver when pushed by the right people, so I’ll be interested to see how this one turns out. Maybe these guys just said, F it, we’re getting older and it’s time to get a couple Oscars to sit on our shelves. See the results for yourselves below.
Watch in High Definition at Apple.com. The Descendants is in theaters December 16, 2011.