Home > Alexander Payne, Film, Film Streams, Kaui Hart Hemmings, Rachel Jacobson, Screenwriting, The Descendants, Writing > Two-time Oscar-winner Alexander Payne delivers another screen gem with “The Descendants” and further enhances his cinema standing

Two-time Oscar-winner Alexander Payne delivers another screen gem with “The Descendants” and further enhances his cinema standing


UPDATE: Alexander Payne has added to his growing legendaric status by picking up his second Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.  He, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash shared the Academy Award for their work on The Descendants.  Payne shared the same award with Jim Taylor for their Sideways script.  It seems only a matter of time before Payne is recognized with a Best Director Oscar.

Here’s a capsule take on Alexander Payne and The Descendants, the latest in the filmmaker’s seriocomic forays into the existential angst, folly, fragility, and yearning of the human condition.  If you’re a fan of Payne, the film, or of cinema in general, then check out the batch of stories on this blog about about him, this picture, his other movies, and a slew of other films and filmmakers from cinema’s past and present.

Alexander Payne In this handout photo provided by NBC, (L-R) producers Jim Taylor, Jim Burke and writer/director Alexander Payne, accept the award for Best Motion Picture - Drama 'The Descendants' onstage during the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton International Ballroom on January 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California.
Jim Taylor, Jim Burks and Alexander Payne accepting Best Picture Golden Globe

 

 

Two-yime Oscar-winner Alexander Payne delivers another screen gem with “The Descendants” and further enhances his cinema standing

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appeared in Omaha Magazine

 

Until The Descendants opened to golden reviews last fall, seven years elapsed between feature films for its celebrated writer-director Alexander Payne.

The Omaha native and Creighton Prep grad came of age as a film buff here. He made his first three features (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt) in his hometown, each moving him up the ranks of elite moviemakers. His surprise 2004 hit, Sideways, took him to Southern California’s wine country. The combination road-buddy picture and unconventional love story confirmed Payne as a film industry leading light, earning him a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar.

He then busied himself writing-producing films for other directors. When he couldn’t find financing for his own pet project, Downsizing, he made The Descendants. Before shooting it in late 2010 the only directing he did in this period was a segment of Paris, I Love You and the pilot for HBO’s Hung.

The Golden Globes won by Descendants star George Clooney for best dramatic actor and by Payne and producing partners Jim Burke and Jim Taylor for best drama harbors well heading into the Oscars, where the film will be well-represented with five nominations (for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Actor). The three friends share their own production company, Ad Hominem Enterprises, which produced the picture for Fox Searchlight, with whom Ad Hominem has a first-look deal. The pic’s strong showing with critics and award shows is reminiscent of Sideways. Like that film, this one took Payne far from the Midwest – to Hawaii. A decade after working with iconic Jack Nicholson on About Schmidt, Payne teamed with another icon, Clooney.

As land baron attorney Matt King, Clooney is a man in crisis. His wife Liz lies in a coma after a boating accident. After years of indifferent parenting he’s suddenly in charge of his two girls. He’s burdened, too, by the valuable land entrusted to his care by ancestors. When his older daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) reveals her mother’s infidelity, Matt sets off on a journey that begins in retribution but ends in forgiveness. Payne says “two acts of love” are what drew him to adapt the Kaui Hart Hemmings novel.

The story shares in common with Schmidt and Sideways and Payne’s forthcoming Nebraska a beleaguered protagonist trying to mend an unraveling life.

“It’s just the comic archetype Jim Taylor (his producing partner and former co-writer) and I came up with and I’m continuing of the middle-aged guy who’s really unconscious and has a bunch of anguish and frustration in life,” says Payne. “It’s a guy with good intentions but who’s bought the wrong package. I think it’s funny.”

Extracting equal amounts pathos and humor from human folly is what Payne does.

“I’m just always drawn to material that remains human. You don’t need guns and spaceships and great contrivance to have a movie and a meaningful one. I don’t think those elements are necessarily bad – I like movies of every genre, but what I’m drawn to is trying to somehow explore and express and mock the human heart.”

Descendants is being called Payne’s most fully realized work. “I hope so,” he says, adding that any new maturity reflects his more accrued life experience at age 50 and his evolving film craft. Some observers note he seems more comfortable letting tender emotions play out on screen.”Well, that’s what this story called for,” he says. “I mean, it could be a new vein of filmmaking in me or could just be I was serving this particular story as a professional, workman-like director. I have no idea.”

Staying true to his Omaha roots, he attended the movie’s local premiere at Film Streams, where Descendants smashed box office records. Payne enjoys sharing his work at the art cinema whose board he serves on. Before an appreciative crowd of friends and supporters he announced the film was among the highest grossers nationally its first week. By early February its domestic take stands at $66 million-plus, makeing it the top indie flick released in 2011.

Exuding grace and humility, Payne personally greeted audience members before and after the opening night screenings here. In accepting his Golden Globe, Payne deflected praise to cast and crew, to the people of Hawaii and to Hemmings, whose “beautiful gift” of a novel he made his own.

“He made this movie that’s hugely successful and he made sure that success was also Film Streams’ success, and hopefully Omaha’s success,” says Film Streams founder-director Rachel Jacobson. “We had so much fun at the premiere. It was just a blast. I wondered if we should do it at a bigger venue, and he said, ‘We’ve got to do it at our home.’ Getting the exclusive from Fox Searchlight was all him. That was huge for us.”

He’s conquered Cannes, Toronto, New York, Hollywood, but he proves he can come home again. Payne, who keeps a condo here, plans shooting the father-son road pic Nebraska in various Panhandle locales come spring. Home is where the heart is and he’s always happy to return where his cinema dreams were first fired.

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