The Descendants

20 Dec

At first, all I heard about this movie was that it was directed by Alexander Payne.  I had seen Election, Sideways, and About Schmidt and thought they were all above average.  I didn’t realize that time had flown since Sideways and Payne hadn’t directed a movie in seven years.  I became intrigued.

Then I heard about Clooney and a possible “Oscar” performance.  My first thought was “shit?”  To be clear, I’m not a Clooney hater; I’m a Clooney skeptic.

I showed up to the theater with some expectations and two heterosexual male friends of mine: fellow contributor, Andy, and my buddy, Brad.  We realized immediately that we predated the average audience member by approximately 3o years.  We looked like a couple of squirrels…awkward, but a sweet man-date nonetheless.

*     *     *

The story surrounds a confused and guilt-ridden husband, Matt King (Clooney), as he deals with his comatose wife, his two daughters whom he hardly knows, and his laid back, money-hungry Hawaiian family.  Not exactly what I thought I was getting myself into on a Friday night.

The Descendants just seems like a well-orchestrated employment of a bunch of simple narrative devices.  Every time the plot began to plateau, there was a “twist,” the majority of which you could see coming a mile away.  Case in point, Matthew Lillard.

Guh, seriously?  Finish the movie, Matthew!  “I can’t, Billy.  You cut me too deep.  I think I’m dying here, man!!”

The comic relief suffered.  I could not get past Sid’s character.  Nick Krause didn’t do a bad job acting as the lame-brained surfer/stoner, but it was so obvious that he was a pointless, fish-out-of-water character used to lighten the mood.  They try to cover it up with “Uhh, so, umm, my dad like died a few months ago and, like, uhh.”  Nice.  Now he’s human, I guess.

Sort of SPOILER ALERT…the entire movie felt like you were waiting for someone/something to die. The wife finally dies, but the movie lives on though in serious (not critical) condition.  I just wish it was 90 min vs. 115 min.  And that the comic relief was funny.  And that the camera wasn’t glued on Clooney.

The Descendants spurred me to question myself:  Was it a great movie?  No, it wasn’t great, but it wan’t bad either…decent??  Sure.  What time is it?  Was George Clooney’s performance Oscar worthy?  His performance isn’t actually that bad at all (at least by Clooney standards), it’s just not worthy of winning an Oscar.  The most memorable scene in the movie is his flip flop sprint to he and his wife’s mutual friends’ home.  He actually shows a bit of range.  I had no idea that George Clooney could cry; I guarantee a nomination.  Actor-wise, I honestly thought that Shailene Woodley as the older of his daughters, Alexandra, did the best job in the film despite some of the histrionic, insolent, disconnected daughter scenes.  At 20-years-old, she has a bright future in either cinema or drugs (or both).

I realize that I’ve been awfully harsh on a movie that definitely has merit.  It is actually the best movie that I have seen in the theater all year.  That being said, the only other movie that I saw was Horrible Bosses on a horrible date.  The acting is pretty solid.  The story is legitimately moving, though a bit forced feeling at times.  Some of the cinematography is gorgeous.  The aforementioned scene of Clooney running and the underwater shot of the eel-like leis and ash in the ocean near the end stuck with me in particular.  At first, I didn’t care for the ending, but I think it was a result of my patience having already been tried for 45 minutes waiting for the denouement.  In retrospect it’s subtle, quiet and honest.

I wouldn’t rush out to the theaters to see this one, but I would recommend it.  Netflix.

Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5*s)

Andy humorously remarked at the end of the film, “Boy, Hawaii sure sounds fun.”  Apparently not unless you’re drinking with Beau Bridges.  Interestingly enough, my friend Brad will be spending his Christmas there with family.  I sincerely hope that he doesn’t pout on the plane.

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One Response to “The Descendants”

  1. Andee December 26, 2011 at 5:48 pm #

    I was going to say I probably delivered the best line of the movie. Honestly it still comes off corny. I get the whole thing is “we all have problems,” but it is hard to muster sympathy for a guy worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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