Tuesday, February 26, 2013


The Descendants and The Dilemma (2011)

Released in 2011, these two films strictly don't make the Overlooked Films grade at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom this Tuesday. If they do it's because I overlooked them.

Sunday night, I went to bed after watching Matt King (George Clooney) agonise over the secret affair of his dying wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) and the gulf between him and his two daughters in The Descendants. I thought I’d wake up just before 6 am, Monday, do yoga, have a cup of tea, and catch the Oscars live. I overslept, though the milkman rang twice. Instead, I watched a recording of the Academy Awards at 8 pm and missed out on a rerun of the very enjoyable Everybody Loves Raymond at half past eight.

The half-hour or so of red carpet stayed true to the cobwebbed script and then the greatest show biz on earth started. Seth MacFarlane, a young man with gleaming white teeth (an Oscar for his dentist, please), came on stage with a quiver full of bawdy jokes and ill humour. I have absolutely no idea who MacFarlane is. I googled and discovered that he is an “American actor, voice actor, animator, screenwriter, comedian, producer, director and singer.” I still don’t know who 
MacFarlane is. I wonder if he thinks he looks like Gene Kelly. 

Ten minutes into the MacFarlane-Shatner enterprise and I was shattered enough to switch channels. I caught Alexander Payne’s The Dilemma on HBO and this time around found Ronny Valentine (Vince Vaughn) agonise over the secret affair his best friend and business partner Nick Brannen’s (Kevin James) wife Geneva (Winona Ryder) is having with a complete stranger.

Two men torturing themselves over the extra-marital affairs of two of the most trusted people in their lives. Another man tormenting millions of viewers from Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The week had ended and begun on one heck of a note.

Just the previous night, I had seen Clooney, a Hawaiian land owner in half pants and seemingly without a shave or bath for days, trying to come to terms with his comatose wife’s fling with real estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). She is off life support, as per her will, and is about to die. Clooney decides that the only way to get over the pain of betrayal is to confront her lover and ask him to say a final goodbye to his wife while she is still alive (who does that? Clooney is nuts!). Instead, his wife Julie Speer (Judy Greer), who I mistook for Tilda Swinton, lands up at the hospital and, between loud sobs, forgives her for sleeping with her husband.

Give the man a break, will you? I mean, look at Clooney. Inside Dolby Theatre, he looked like he hadn't shaved since attending his ‘wife’s funeral’ and ‘making up with his daughters.’ On top of it, you have MacFarlane (above) jabbing him with sexual innuendos over poor nine-year old Quvenzhan√© Wallis, nominated for Best Actress for Beasts of the Southern Wild, and throwing a small whisky bottle at him.

Clooney was actually smiling. What could he do? He was in the front row. Well, he could have thrown his shoe at MacFarlane. Angry Indians often fling their shoes and chappals at politicians and ministers.

Meanwhile, Seth MacFarlane’s audacious ‘boob’ number, in spite of its deft execution, was enough to make me switch back to The Dilemma where Vince Vaughn, who is living in with Beth (Jennifer Connelly), is fighting his own demons—to tell or not to tell Kevin James the bitter truth about his wife. The delay in opening up to his best friend lands Vaughn in trouble with family and friends.

Vince Vaughn is tall, big, and loud while Kevin James is short, fat, and quiet, but they click together, even though Vaughn grabs all the attention like a spoilt child. They reminded me of that other long-and-short couple, Will Smith and Kevin James, in Hitch. You wonder if director Ron Howard was reliving a successful formula.

The Descendants and The Dilemma with a somewhat common thread are reasonably good films that you can watch if you have a lot of free time or, better still, avoid agonising over Seth MacFarlane’s emceeing at next year’s Oscars.


  1. Haven't watcher these either but I would really to see THE DESCENDANTS as I'm a big fan of Clooney and writer-director Alexander Payne - thanks Prashant!

    1. You're welcome, Sergio. Alexander Payne's ABOUT SCHMIDT, which, frankly, I did not like much, has a similar theme, about a man (Jack Nicholson) and his estranged daughter. I like Clooney, too, though i can't quite place him as an actor. I think he is more suited for family dramas though I'll admit he was good in the OCEAN'S series and THE PEACEMAKER.

  2. Like your description of the Oscars. Being no movie buff I haven't a clue as to who everyone is. Agree totally about the dentist though!

    1. Thank you, Mystica. I'm not conversant with many of the new actors though this year's Oscars had some good films that I look forward to seeing beginning with LINCOLN.

  3. This "review" tickled me, covering not one but three different broadcasts while channel switching, as if they were plot threads of a single movie. The Oscars this year were so dreadful, I spent much of the show in the kitchen cooking and then cleaning up, with the TV on in the next room. I came out for 2 songs: Shirley Bassey and Barbara Streisand. It was sure a long, dry spell in between those two numbers. The only two moments that were not embarrassing.

    1. Ron, yes, it did seem like the "plot threads of a single movie" and all I had to do was press the "back" button on my remote to move back and forth between the Oscars and THE DILEMMA. "Dreadful" is the word to describe the show this year. The audience was virtually nudged into laughing at some of MacFarlane's corny humour. I wonder who writes the script. Barbara Streisand has been an old favourite while I don't recall listening to Shirley Bassey before, though I'm familiar with the GOLDENEYE soundtrack. The pick of the night was Adele's SKYFALL song backed by terrific music.

  4. Well, Bassey is most famous for "Goldfinger," though she's had any number of similar recordings...and Prashant, I'm sorry I missed this on Tuesday. MacFarlane is best-known for his animated series FAMILY GUY, which can be (and has been) referred to as a dumbed-down, but sharply edited, variation on THE SIMPSONS with more obnoxiousness added, and his career has mostly expanded from his success there. (It's LAUGH IN to THE SIMPSONS' SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR.) But, then, I can't remember ever enjoying an Oscars telecast, and haven't watched much of any of them for decades. (As one of the local newspaper film reviewers noted, "The Oscars are bullshit.")

    I have the novel THE DESCENDANTS is based on, and intend to read soonish. ABOUT SCHMIDT isn't Payne's best film, but his previous efforts are pretty impressive...I hadn't realized he directed THE DILEMMA.

  5. This was a very entertaining post, Prashant. I am sorry it took me so long to see it. We watch the Oscar ceremony religiously every year, although we always know that it will have many boring and aggravating moments. I don't know MacFarlane either, but the only Oscar host I ever liked (in my memory) was Billy Crystal.

    Haven't watched either of the two movies you talked about, but George Clooney is a favorite actor no matter what he does.