Thursday, May 08, 2014

“The Discoverers”– Movie Review




This week in my movie class, we saw the new comedy-drama “The Discoverers”, starring Griffin Dunne.


When an author decides to bring his teenage children with him to promote his latest book, they get detoured when his mother dies – but once his father’s mourning disrupts everyone’s life, will he be able to juggle his personal and professional responsibilities?


Lewis (Dunne) teaches history as an adjunct professor at a local community college in Chicago. Having spent many years working on a book about noted explorers Lewis & Clark, it appears he’s finally getting it published by a small university press. To promote the book and get some advanced orders from universities across the country, he agrees to attend a conference in Portland, Oregon where he’ll be able to network with university representatives. Divorced, his weekend custody with his teenage children happens to fall at the same time as the conference, so he decides to take them with him.

While en route to the conference, Lewis gets a call from his brother, who informs him their mother is sick.  Since Lewis is geographically closer to their parents, he’ll have to check in on them. Upon arrival, his father Stanley (Stuart Margolin) isn’t exactly pleased to see Lewis, from whom he’s been estranged for quite some time. Shortly after Lewis’ arrival, his mother passes away and he’s left to deal with Stanley, whose mourning takes the form of a near-catatonic state. Discovering the next day that Stanley is missing, Lewis is eventually able to track him down; he’s in the woods with a group of his friends who enjoy partaking in historically-correct Lewis & Clark recreations in full costume.

Needing to keep an eye on Stanley, Lewis reluctantly agrees to participate in the group’s recreations, even though it means his arrival at the conference will be delayed. Since Lewis is with the group, his teenage kids have to join him – and they do so with even greater reluctance, especially since it also happens to be his daughter’s birthday. Forced to role-play with the rest of the group, Lewis and his teenagers grow increasingly restless and irritable. Even worse, Lewis learns his book’s publication may be in jeopardy. With Stanley on the verge of what seems like a nervous breakdown, his kids about to revolt and his career about to implode, will Lewis be able to pull everything together in time to attend the conference, or will something have to suffer as a result?


“The Discoverers” is very reminiscent of Alexander Payne’s work – “The Descendants” and “Nebraska” come immediately to mind. Although there are terrific performances by a great cast – including and especially its star, Griffin Dunne – it’s not quite enough to overcome the material’s shortcomings. The first feature film by writer/director Justin Schwarz shows promise, but doesn’t give a sense that he’s yet able to tell a long-form story. Despite the fact that the movie is a reasonable running time of less than two hours, it drags a bit in its second act; the fact that it provides what turns out to be a false ending in its third act doesn’t help, either.

Most of the second act and the first portion of the third act take place in the woods with this group of recreationists re-enacting the trek of Lewis & Clark. Finding these people and this situation rather hard to take taxed my patience. Also, the character of Lewis is problematic; in spite of Griffin Dunne’s performance, Lewis is delineated as something of a patsy, making him quite unsympathetic. It’s difficult to root for someone who masochistically invites so much trouble upon himself. The script, written by someone who clearly has a detailed understanding of Lewis & Clark, at times feels like something of an unwelcome didactic history lesson.

Prior to the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s writer/director Justin Schwarz and following the screening, he interviewed its star, Griffin Dunne. Schwarz has a fascinating background; under the Clinton administration, he was a policy writer and thought he might pursue a career in politics until he saw how it could be divisive and polarizing. Dunne talked about what his childhood was like growing up in Hollywood as the son of Dominick Dunne; he initially had such disgust for the filmmaking community that he wanted to become a journalist. However, after trying his hand at acting, he changed his mind and moved to New York to pursue a career in theater.

The Discoverers (2012) on IMDb

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