We all play certain roles within our families. Parents are particularly likely to fall into specific roles depending on how much time they spend at home, what sort of pressures are on them in the world of their jobs and other factors. So it’s not uncommon for there to be the recognition that one of them is the “fun” parent while the other is the disciplinarian or whatever the particular dynamic is in any given household.
In the new movie The Descendants the family in the middle of the story has to go through a major realignment of roles. Matt King (George Clooney) is the father who’s not an integral part of anyone’s life. He’s there and he loves everyone, sure, but he’s not the “primary” parent. But then his wife is in an accident and ends up in a coma, thrusting him to the forefront. That transition is complicated, though, when his oldest daughter (Shailene Woodley) reveals he’s the only one who didn’t know his wife was having an affair. So not only does King have to reconnect with his family but he has to process that information as well. The movie comes from writer/director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election), a filmmaker with a reputation for well-crafted character stories.
The first – and it turns out only – poster told us, at least overtly, almost nothing about the movie’s story. It’s just Clooney shown in profile kind of looking at some kids who are playing on a beach. No copy explains what it is we’re looking at so this is very much a teaser image. Which makes it surprising that nothing came next, that there was nothing that offered even a little bit more about the movie. The assumption is that Clooney + a gorgeous location is enough for audiences. Not saying this is wrong, just that it’s surprising there wasn’t *something* else.
The first trailer for the movie is just great, selling us not only on the story but also on the performances of everyone involved.
It starts out with King talking about how he’s the backup parent to his two young daughters compared to his wife, who’s currently in the hospital, a situation that means he has to step up and be more involved. That leads to plenty of conflict between him and the girls, especially the teenage one who’s in full rebellious “I can be my own person” mode. It’s that older daughter who, as he’s talking about how he has to communicate his wife’s situation to all their family and friends, informs him that his sick wife had been cheating on him. This new information causes him to reevaluate everything and the rest of the trailer is a montage of clips that show while there are some tough moments that there’s also plenty of love in the family.
The best moment of the trailer is kind of a tie between the shot of Clooney rounding the corner while he’s running in flip-flops and Robert Forrester punching the snot-nosed and disrespectful boyfriend of the older daughter. Both are just fantastic.
The movie’s official website is pretty interesting. Using your mouse you can drag the entire page up, down and sideways to view various angles and the features each one holds. Clicking on one of the photos that’s tacked to the tree, then, unlocks different content. In some cases that’s a short video clip in others it’s something else. It’s very much a family tree since most of that introduces us to members of the King family.
At the bottom of the page there’s a link to “learn more” about the movie and clicking that takes you to Fox Searchlight’s site and their page for the film, which has more traditional content. There you’ll find a “Synopsis” and “Trailer” as well as the usual Searchlight features like news feeds of relevant information, videos and more.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots were run, particularly late in the campaign, that were pretty good but which certainly appeared to play up the kind of wacky comedic angles that were present at the expense of more textured character stuff. One in particular would focus on Clooney’s character finding out about the affair and highlights Clooney’s stalking of the other guy, with him jumping behind bushes and so on. I don’t necessarily think is missells the movie but it certainly sells one particular perspective of the film.
Media and Publicity
Some of the first publicity for the movie came when it was announced (Los Angeles Times, 7/26/11) it would be one of those screening at the 2011 Toronto Film Festival. It was also selected as the closing night feature at the New York Film Festival (Hollywood Reporter, 8/17/11). Before that it was one of the featured films at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival, where it gathered decent word of mouth from the assembled critics.
Payne would later talk about (LAT, 11/1/11) talking about his involvement with the book adaptation, which originally had him producing and someone else directing. Shortly thereafter profiles of Clooney (LAT, 11/2/11) and the rest of the cast would explore working with the director, shooting in Hawaii and more.
It’s a really good campaign that, for the most part, I think does a dead-on job of selling the movie as an interesting and entertaining character piece. It’s clear, of course, that Clooney is the main selling point though there’s enough of a focus on Payne as well to attract people who have been fans of his previous movies. What it sells is a movie that seems to fit nicely, as Payne’s other films mostly do, somewhere between commercially viable and awards worthy, something that’s a very tough line to walk.