Film Review: The Descendants
The Descendants came out in November, but I just got around to seeing it yesterday. The movie centers around a man named Matt King, played by George Clooney, whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident. Matt is what he refers to as “the back-up parent” so his wife’s illness forces him to take care of his two daughters, something which he has no clue how to do. The film is set in Hawaii, but it’s not the typical “beaches and paradise” version of Hawaii that one typically sees in films, as many of the scenes take place in office buildings and homes that are far from glamorous. The other main plot-line centers around the King family estate. They have a large chunk of unused land in Hawaii and are trying to figure out what to do with it.
There were some character inconsistencies throughout the movie that bothered me a bit. Both of Matt’s daughters are initially portrayed as bratty and petulant, but pretty much without warning they switch to being allies. There’s another character named Sid, who has a similar turn-around. This kind of stuff happens all the times in movies, and it doesn’t usually bother me, but in a movie that seemed to be striving to be centered and real, it felt off.
The director, Alexander Payne, seems to have a penchant for telling these sort of scaled down tales. His films (Election, Sideways, About Schmidt are the ones I’ve seen) aren’t overly dramatic, but they’re effective because they are grounded in reality and the characters emotions seem genuine. This film fits that mold as well. It’s odd, because I wouldn’t describe The Descendants as a particularly funny movie, but I did laugh. I also would not describe it as a particularly dramatic movie, yet there were more than a few times when I was moved and really felt for the characters.
Clooney does a solid job in the lead role. He plays a character whose life is falling apart, which is something of a departure from his usual roles. The MVP of the cast has to go to Shailene Woodley, though. She plays Matt King’s 17 year old daughter, Alex. Teenagers in films have a tendency to be stereotypical, but Woodley covers a range of emotions quite nicely.
Also, Judy Greer, better known as Kitty Sanchez from Arrested Development, is in the film as well. I was shocked to see her in a dramatic role, but she was actually believable. Who’d have thunk it?
Final Analysis: This is an interesting film that’s worth seeing. It’s not a tour-de-force by any means, but it’s a well done story with a lot of heart. A solid addition to Payne’s filmography.