A Tale of Two Depressing Movies – Notes on “The Descendants” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”

We rarely watch depressing movies in our house, as we find reality harsh enough. But in a recent week we viewed two Oscar Best Picture nominees: The Descendants starring my wife’s favorite (and everybody’s wife’s fave) George Clooney, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock.

The one to watch, in our humble opinion, is NOT the one we predicted. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is, by far, the better movie of the two, with an interesting story and an ending that, while not exactly uplifting, tells a story of hope. The Descendants, in contrast, meanders all over the place, not really telling us anything.

There are some good pieces to the Clooney movie, his performance being one of them; as a man who has ignored his wife, who is now in a coma and finds out she was having an affair, Clooney plays confusion and uncertainty on what steps to take exceedingly well. The subplot of the Hawaiian land that “the descendants” own, and what to do with it, hits close to home, with our good friends who live and were born on the islands providing background on this issue, past and present. And Shailene Woodley who plays Clooney’s teenage daughter, out of drug rehab and trying to help, is enjoyable and gorgeous.

But the movie is a cacophony of angry reactions and aimless events (with the exception of the decision on what to do with the parcel of land). While the characters may be believable, it’s hard to give a crap what happens to them.

The opposite occurs in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. The story of Oskar Schell, close to his father, not so much to his mother, hunting for the lock that fits a key that he found amongst his father’s things after his father was killed in 9/11. By finding what the key fits (and it has do with “BLACK”, which is the name on the envelope the key came in), Oskar hopes to find some closure on his father’s death. Aided in his search by his Grandmother’s “renter” (who he knows is his estranged Grandfather, played well by Max Von Sydow), without giving away spoilers…Oskar does find closure, and ends up much closer to his mother.

Hanks and Bullock could have overwhelmed this movie, but it is Oskar’s story (played by Thomas Horn, whose IMDB bio says he won Kid’s Week on Jeopardy) and the two stars (and Sydow) fit in seamlessly.

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