The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Ugly running and other musings somewhat related to The Descendants

with 12 comments

This will be a long, dwindling train of thoughts that might bring you to a few words about The Descendants. Join for the ride if you’re up for it. If you’re looking for a proper, clear, quick-to-the-point review, you’re probably better off somewhere else.

The hitchhiking
So where to start? I think we’ll begin with a thumb by the roadside just outside of Christchurch.

Do you remember when there were hitchhikers on the roads? Maybe you don’t; I have the feeling that some of you were born just around the time when they started to disappear for some reason. It’s like with the dinosaurs – we can’t be too sure about what happened, but we can have our theories.

Perhaps there was a change in the equation. The airplane tickets got cheaper at the same rate as the dangers lurking on the roads grew. The money you could save didn’t match the risk anymore. Or maybe it was the drivers who were to blame. They stopped picking up people for the same reason: the dangers overshadowed the benefits of getting company and the pleasant feeling of being helpful.

Regardless of what happened you’ll have to trust me: once upon a time there were hitchhikers, for real and not just in the movies, and I was one of them. For two months I hitchhiked around New Zeeland and this meant that I came to spend a good many hours standing by a roadside with my husband. Not because the New Zealanders didn’t want to pick you up, because they did – they were the most generous and friendly people I’ve ever met. But it was in the countryside and sometimes you had to wait for quite a while before someone came that way.

Twenty questions
So what do you do with all that time at hands? Well, I know what we did. We played “twenty questions”, you know the game where one of you think about a person and the other one asks questions that only can be answered with “yes” or “no” until you’ve figured out who it is.

Over time we had worked out our own rules about this. For instance we sorted the persons into a few classes. There were the fictive persons – characters from films, comics and books. Then there the people who existed for real, who could be either celebrities such as actors, writers or politicians, or people we knew: family and friends. Finally there was one last option which we called “Sune Mangs”. Sune Mangs was a Swedish actor who we and some friends of ours that also were into this game unanimously had decided was one of his kind. He had a special aura that made him into something in between a real or a fictive person. He was in a class of his own.

Our trip to New Zeeland took place in 1987. At this point George Clooney was already an established actor, but we hadn’t heard of him yet. This was years before his appearance as Dr Ross in ER. At this point he had just finished the recording of Return of the Killer Tomatoes and I don’t think that’s something that makes you into “top of mind” for twenty questions.

But if this had taken place today, I think George Clooney might have been the one to get a category of his own. There is something iconic about him, something that makes him feel like a cartoon rather than like a normal actor. He is The George Clooney.

A strong brand
For most jobs a strong brand is only an advantage, but not in the case of acting. It’s harder to get immersed and forget that there’s an actor involved, if the actor has a very strong personality of his own.

Some actors are neutral and anonymous. They’re as neutral as cream that you add to a sauce: they can carry just about any taste, any type of personality. Their own personal will never take over and dominate over the character they’re supposed to be. They become one with their role.

In the case of George Clooney it’s the opposite. It’s hard to forget that it’s George Clooney I’m watching on the screen. I always make a mental note: “Oh, there is George Clooney! He certainly looks like himself!” I don’t even remember the name of his president candidate in The Ides of March or the landowner and father in The Descendants. He’s always just “George Clooney” to me.

I can imagine how challenging it must be. How can you possibly break lose, how can you make people forget that you’re George Clooney?

Ugly running
In the case of The Descendants, George Clooney is once again casted as a successful and wealthy businessman. As the film evolves, it turns out that his life isn’t quite as happy and enviable as you would imagine, just as Hawaii isn’t just the paradise we see in the tourist ads, but also a pretty grey and average place. The facade of Clooney’s character’s life crackles as his wife gets into a serious accident, ending up in coma at a hospital and it turns out that she’s been cheating on him. The movie is about Clooney’s following journey where he searches for the truth about his wife while at the same time reconnecting to his teenage daughters, who suddenly have become his responsibility, a situation he apparently isn’t used to.

So how did it work? Did I get immersed and touched enough to feel the pain of Clooney’s character under my own skin? Could I stop thinking about “George Clooney is on the screen” and start just caring about the character?

Yes, most of the time I could, with one exception: whenever they had Clooney go running. It happens a couple of time in the film and I don’t know what the idea is. Perhaps it’s an effort to get away from the Cloonian image of perfection and success. But did they really fool anyone? Not me at least. All I could think of was: “Oh, there is George Clooney. Why is he running so ugly? He must be trying to prove something. Is ugly running what they give you Oscars for?”

The verdict
And this will finally bring us to the verdict. Is George Clooney worth an Oscar award for best actor? Yes and no. Of course I’d rather have seen it given to Michael Fassbender for Shame. But as the nominations look now, Clooney could as well have it as anyone else.

Did I like The Descendants? Oh yes. There’s always something soothing about watching millionaires struggling with their lives, ending up eating comfort ice cream out of the box in front of the TV. Deep down we’re all the same – fragile, messed up and uncertain about where our journey will take us. It’s like hitchhiking. Life will take you into places you didn’t plan. You just need to learn to cope.

The Descendants (Alexander Payne, US 2011) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

February 14, 2012 at 1:19 am

Posted in The Descendants

12 Responses

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  1. I think he just runs like that lol. He did the same run in O Brother Where art Thou.

    I enjoyed this film quite a bit. The young cast all did a cracking job. I especially liked the character arc of Sid. He was cool…. dude cha

    Scott Lawlor

    February 14, 2012 at 10:17 am

    • Hm… Are you sure? Can someone really run like this for real? To me it looks like a softer version of the silly walks of Monty Python, something designed to amuse (which worked fine by the way – the entire theatre burst into laughter whenever he started to run.)


      February 14, 2012 at 10:39 pm

  2. Well, that was a lovely read. That was “out of the box” in the absolute best sense of the term.

    As for The Cloon, I’ve always seen him specifically as the character he’s playing, except for the times when the character he’s playing really is just George Clooney. Like Danny Ocean. Danny Ocean is just his pseudonym. He’s really George Clooney, and we all know it. And I think that’s ok.


    February 14, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    • Thanks Nick! I’m not always sure if this kind of ramblings make a good read, but they certainly make a good write if you get what I mean. It’s such a pleasure not to keep your thoughts in strict control. This time they brought me back in my mind to New Zeeland, which was quite fun. I hope to return one day, though I’ll hopefully have the finances to be able to rent a car this time. Whether we’ll run twenty questions or not is yet to be determined.


      February 14, 2012 at 10:44 pm

  3. Nice to hear you’ve been to New Zealand, since I live here and all. Though you wouldn’t have much luck hitchhiking there today.


    February 18, 2012 at 3:18 am

    • I’ve heard so. Back in the end of the 80s there was still some sort of innocence prevailing, which I’ve heard has been lost by now. 😦 It’s still very strong in my memory. People offering us to stay over night in their homes. People offering to be guides driving us around just to show us places where they lived, introducing us to their friends. It made quite an impression.


      February 18, 2012 at 8:27 am

  4. I’ve always thought that this movie is about Matt King discovering what his wife meant for others while he can’t define her within his story and context and I can never like the movie because of that.

    I also resented Clooney’s place within the Best Actor race, the Academy presenting an interesting yet messy list, I can’t vouch for each of the nominations. I know it’s bad form whining about the Academy. Anyway, I do appreciate how his goofy side comes up her since his good looks hide his comic side. I’d rather him doing that with the Coens though.


    February 20, 2012 at 8:08 am

    • Yeah the running was goofy, but felt a little bit misplaced here. He had some great scenes though. I particularly loved the late scene at the hospital, you probably know what I mean. I think that’s what gave him a nomination.


      February 20, 2012 at 12:48 pm

  5. Movies like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Wolf Creek might have something to do with the declination of hitchhikers.

    I liked the movie. New Zealand’s tourism sector must be very happy with movies like this one and the LOTR series. It looks like the most beautiful place on earth.


    March 13, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    • Doh. This comment and a bunch of others were stuck in the spam filter for some reason. I guess in the case of the Descendant’s it’s Hawaii’s tourist sector that rejoyces!


      March 14, 2012 at 9:18 am

      • I posted too much in too small a timeframe 😉

        And you’re right, the nice houses, big cars and the fact that everyone speaks English should have been a hint.


        March 14, 2012 at 8:09 pm

  6. […] The Descendants From my review: “There’s always something soothing about watching millionaires struggling with their lives, ending up eating comfort ice cream out of the box in front of the TV. Deep down we’re all the same – fragile, messed up and uncertain about where our journey will take us.” […]

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