The Descendants

Awhile back I made a post where I arrogantly claimed how easy it was to pick out the “awards” films being released in 2011. Surprisingly, none of my Best Picture predictions made it on the list, nor were many of them recognized outside of one or two categories. However, I did mention the Alexander Payne movie The Descendants, not to be nominated for Best Picture, but as one of the “films of interest” for awards season. And now it’s one of the front runners for all the major awards. Funny how that happens.

George Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian lawyer and sole trustee of a family-owned piece of land that he and his cousins are looking to sell before the trust expires. That, and his wife has just fallen into a coma after a boating accident, one that doctors have informed him is permanent. He’s got a lot on his plate.

Generally, I really like Alexander Payne movies. Election is one of my favorite films that brilliantly satirizes the political process under the guise of a high school comedy. Sideways is the greatest film ever made about the hopes and disappointment of middle-aged men (while being a hilarious comedy to boot). And About Schmidt was a powerful character study of a man who realizes that he may just have thrown his life away. But The Descendants is flat, predictable, and unfortunately, bland.

The only scene that held any poignancy for me was the initial close-up shot of King’s wife water-skiing. She wears a look of pure joy as her body rocks with the waves and the bright sun shines down, but we as the audience (with the benefit of having seen the trailer and reading the synopsis) know that this solitary scene of happiness will end regrettably. While she may spend the rest of the movie in a coma, her performance is the only one that has any life to it.

The movie meanders across Hawaii as King and his two daughters travel to meet with relatives and close acquaintances and tell them that their daughter/sister/friend is going to die. The characters then react – the wife’s Dad (Robert Forster) blames King for her death – the cousins solemnly nod their heads at the news and apologize – etc. It’s more of a wake than it is a movie.

Added to all the mourning are two subplots that stall before they even begin. One of them – a secret the wife had been hiding from King before her accident – has the potential to add drama and some interest into the plot, but it mostly falls flat and largely unresolved. The other subplot – the deadline to sell the 25,000 acres to a real estate developer for a windfall of cash – has a resolution that is so obviously telegraphed it’s practically insulting (see: greedy, entitled cousins vs. simple townsfolk with a love of pure nature). Plus, it seems like an arbitrary decision dictated by the plot rather than by the characters.

The Descendants isn’t the awards darling that it’s being proclaimed to be. Sure, it will probably win its fair share of statues, but after the red carpet is rolled up and the hype dies down, it probably won’t be a film you’ll watch again anytime soon. At least that’s my prediction. And we know how those have turned out.

Grade: C+

Side note: This was probably the most disappointing movie of 2011 for me. I really like Alexander Payne and really wanted to see/like this movie. Unfortunately, it just didn’t click.

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2 Responses to The Descendants

  1. The soundtrack by slack key guitar legend Gabby Pahinue is a shoe-in for a statue. You’ve seen Clooney work a room. Apparently it works.

  2. aguassClara says:

    I completely agree with you, I had heard a lot of positive things about this film, so I watched it yesterday. It was disappointing. I felt that all the characters were all stereotyped and their evolution were predictable. I just liked the ending scene, with the guys watching tv while we watch at them. Great review!

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