Sometimes we have to wonder if parabolas in an actor’s urges for creativity accounts for their project selections. A-listers have the luxury of yay or naying their way out of high stakes contracts to give their creative energy an insistent whirl. Box office smashers are out of the way of their repertoire; after all, dollars and cents are more or less guaranteed. Just put a name next to a script and you’ve got yourself at least a jury mention on the festival circuit.
The Sea of Trees brings the affable southern comfort guy next door Matthew McConnaughey down to his knees in his sensitive element. Gone is his southern twang from early 2000s gem The Wedding Planner. None of this Interstellar hyper-intelligence nor douchey rich guy in financial control à la Wolf of Wall Street. In The Sea of Trees, McConnaughey is a realized normal guy – typically sick and tired of his career, typically quits his higher-status job to pursue a passion, typically passive-aggressive in his marriage, offsetting the turbulence of both of their own life dissatisfaction by way of chucking hurtful quips indiscriminately.
Amongst the laymen of us all, we want to engage in his seemingly charitable outreach to the miserable of the normcore. But, man! Must he have chosen a project exuding emotions beyond contrived? The Sea of Trees follows the run-through formula for the thought-provoked white guy trying to find himself via insight far, far away from Western society. Screenwriter Chris Sparling followed a trajectory that runs so parallel to this formula that you’d have to do a double-take on the names attached to the project: Naomi Watts, Ken Watanabe, Matthew McConnaughey.. Yep, it’s a cast of Hollywood’s grandest attached to the script quality of an entitled film student’s thesis project crossing his fingers for a professor’s recognition.
To give rhyme to reason, a mini-demo of said trajectory is in due order: so a Western guy hates his life. His wife hates him; he hates his wife. A tragic sickness brings them together but – much like what the Final Destination franchise has taught us – loss is inevitable where it is foreseen. Life. Sucks. Time for this guy to find some healing wisdom. But where to? Quick Google search and (drumroll please…) Asia it is! It’s proverbs galore over there and chock-full of wise quotes that’s bound to change your life. Bona fide fool proof. Plus, traveling begets new people, and in Asia, you’ll beget people of the Asian variety – Asian people with Confucian catechism infused so deep in their psyche that mere contact will rearrange the dopamine receptors in your brain from status sad to status peaceful.
Plug in Ken Watanabe with his mysterious presence and perfectly crafted Japanese accent into the role of wise Asian guy there for supplying the spiritual mind vomit, and The Sea of Trees was pretty much a go for studio execs. The story is comfortable, healing, and complemented by pretty faces. Deep-set in mediocrity, but so what? It’s comfortable. And with pretty faces alongside an easy watch with mild intelligently emotional matter, we make room for more cocktail party fodder to throw around our next adult table dinner party. Pass the wine, please? Meanwhile, I’m reaching for another glass to get through this one.
Written by Dara Kim