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“The Descendants,” screening Thursday at Mesa Public Library, is the kind of film that smart people wish would win awards.
It’s not sensationalistic or gratuitous. It’s not one easy laugh after another, one car chase after another, one famous person after another saying dumb, obvious things with their multi-million-dollar voices.
And in fact, the film did win an Oscar for Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay and was nominated for four others: Best Achievement in Directing (Alexander Payne); Best Achievement in Film Editing (Kevin Tent); Best Motion Picture; and Best Actor (George Clooney).
Those are pretty nice kudos for a slow building plot about a self-proclaimed “back-up parent” (Matt King, played by Clooney) trying with painful-to-watch ineptness to keep his family together after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident.
However, Matt himself, is supposed to be more interesting than I found him. It’s as though his character, a Hawaiian land baron with generally quietly portrayed personal problems, is always behind a blurry spot on the camera; he’s there all right, but not.
I feel similarly about other super-famous, often funny actors who take on serious roles — less like I’m watching a character grow and develop than like I’m watching an actor reveal his serious side.
The best parts feature Matt’s 17-year-old daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), a girl flung out to boarding school without a trusting connection to either of her parents. She’s both messed up and openly caring.
She’s a little wise, but not as much as she thinks. Most of what she says is not particularly astute or deep, but I really like how she’s not easy to sort into a little, labeled, psychoanalyzed box.
Overall, the film is not easy to sort into a little box, which makes it interesting and resonant, if not 100-percent perfect.
“The Descendants” screens at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library, as part of the library’s Free Film Series, which currently features 2012 Academy Award winners. The series is made possible by Friends of Mesa Public Library.
For more information, call the library at 662-8240.