The Descendants (2011) Comedy, Drama, 115 minutes Directed by Alexander Payne Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Nick Krause and Amara Miller
It took me about two minutes to decide that The Descendants was going to be my kind of film. It happened during Clooney's opening voice-over in which he observed that, just because they live in paradise, Hawaiians aren't exempt from the usual problems people face. That statement caught my attention because it's true, but it also alerted me to the possibility that the script would be both truthful and more intelligent than most.
Matt King (Clooney) is the kind of character that I can identify with. He's a lawyer and his job is more important to him than his family. He regularly travels to neighboring islands on business and hasn't had a proper relationship with his wife and two daughters for several years. When his wife has an accident which places her in a coma, Matt's life changes instantly. He has to be a father to his daughters and he's completely unprepared.
His younger daughter, Scottie (Miller), is 10 years old. Matt last took care of her when she was three. His other daughter, Alex (Woodley), is 17 and is in a boarding school to help her overcome alcohol and drug problems. When Matt learns that his wife will never wake up, he takes Scottie to collect Alex from the school. Alex is drunk when he turns up and openly defies him early in the film.
Place yourself in Matt's situation for a moment. How would you attempt to console your daughters? What would help you establish some kind of connection with them? If you're all they have left, how will you make them feel as if everything is going to be all right?
Matt isn't happy with Alex because she argued with her mother the last time they spoke, but her reasoning is sound; she found out that her mother was cheating on Matt. Alex insists that her boyfriend, Sid (Krause), stays with her while she is home. Sid appears to be fairly dumb and occasionally stoned. Matt is not happy.
The story really takes off when Matt takes Sid and his daughters to a neighboring island in search of his wife's lover. Another story thread explains that Matt and his many cousins are descended from Hawaiian royalty and own a piece of land worth around $500 million. Matt is the sole trustee and must organize the group of cousins and decide who to sell the land to. A complication emerges later in the story which could have a major impact on his decision, but I won't reveal any more of the film's secrets.
I've watched Clooney develop as an actor over the past few years. He used to be criticized for "always being Clooney", but I think he's proved that there's a lot more to him. His timing is excellent and he always delivers his comedic lines well, but he has to show considerable range as Matt. Many of the scenes require him to show his feelings without the use of words. He goes through a lot of emotions during the film and pulls it off perfectly whether the situations are positive or negative. His performance is human, real, touching, emotional and understandable. I thought he should have won the Oscar for his performance in Up in the Air, but this latest oversight is a glaring error.
What I really liked about the film was the character development. We see Matt grow as expected, but I was stunned by the development shown in Alex and Sid. They both have more to them than meets the eye and I ended up liking both characters tremendously.
The conclusions that Matt reaches by the end of the story seem plausible and fit well with his development as a father and as a responsible adult. I might have reached the same conclusions if I were placed in his shoes.
You'll definitely laugh during The Descendants and you may even be moved to tears.
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash won the Oscar for their adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings' book and it was thoroughly deserved. It's rare to witness a film with such intelligent writing. The characters and situations are always believable. If you were in their position, you might find yourself behaving in the same way.
The Descendants is my favorite film of 2011 and, in a few years, I suspect many will wonder why it didn't win for Best Picture when we find out whether The Artist has lasting appeal.Read more ›
Gregory Peck once said it's hard to make a good man look interesting.
You can probably imagine in a cinematic world peopled with antiheroes, flawed heroes, or unrealistic superheroes, how refreshing it might be, to encounter a good guy we can relate to, in situations that parallel those we might actually experience.
George Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer, businessman, and hardworking mostly absent father of two girls. He happens to be wealthy because of his descent from the original landowners of Hawaii, the real Hawaiians, who own most of Hawaii. Sole trustee of the family's interests, and now because of succession rules faced with the situation of having to sell off thousands of acres of pristine land to resort developers. Despite his family wealth Doug leads a very modest life. He drives a metallic silver Honda Civic, a sensible car.
When his thrillseeking wife ends up in a coma following a powerboating accident, he is thrust into the unfamiliar role of looking after his two daughters each bringing their own challenges. The younger one has difficulties in school, the older one, well, she's a teenager.
We learn early in the movie that the wife had an affair, making a difficult situation even worse. George Clooney Alex Payne manage to create apposite emotions for the movie goer. While distressed he pads out the front door, dons flipflops and runs to his wife's best friend house. He runs funny. A comic relief followed by a dramatic confrontation. Tension, and shock artfully modified by humor make this movie an emotional wonder.
When he breaks the news of his wife's condition to his older daughter she ducks underwater and we see an invisible breakdown. Some of these scenes are tender. In the hospital there are various monologues to the comatose mother, from a cheated husband, an unforgiving daughter, and a wounded wife.
The presence of Clooney vastly elevates the movie, as does the acting performance of Shailene Woodley, giving a tremendous breakthrough performance as the teenager daughter you worry might go off the rails. Judy Greer, who you probably know from Two and a Half Men appears later in the movie.
The Descendants is among the leading Oscar nominated movies. Although nine movies are nominated for Best Picture, only three I believe are genuine contenders, The Artist, and Hugo being the other two. Nominations for The Descendants include Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay.
Previously, Alex Payne won the Academy Award for the Sideways screenplay.
This movie was a surprise. I really enjoyed the film and like it when the movie is much better than I expect. Only issue with the purchase is buying the Blu-ray but you get a SD digital copy. Seems a lot of the studios do this. If I buy the Blu-ray, I expect the digital copy to be HD.