If you were an actor, middle-aged or older and looking to revamp your career, landing a role in an Alexander Payne movie could be just the thing. On the other hand, collaborating with the man who brought to the world the twin masterpieces of midlife pathos “About Schmidt” and “Sideways” may mean that you come away from the project broken, humbled and feeling like all your nerve endings have been exposed. Call it a rape of the ego. Or a massively bloody session in the dentist’s chair, sans anesthesia. And if you don’t believe this, take a long, hard look at Payne’s latest movie, “The Descendants.”

Payne is among the most astute observers of white-collar American culture working in cinema today, which may account for the fact that his snarky movies come around only every so often. His works are often offensive, always thorny and terribly funny — in a choke-hold kind of way. It’s not exactly blockbuster material, and one imagines that getting these through a Hollywood board meeting without compromising the content is a feat akin to pushing a camel through the eye of a needle.

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