Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Directed by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash. 
Based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, and Patricia Hastie
Synopsis: After his wife is in a boating accident that leaves her in a coma, Matt King 
must cope with her condition and the pressures of the impending 
sale of a patch of land his family owns.

There's something to be said about Alexander Payne; most of his movies end up always making you think about life. I'm not sure if it's even a correct comparison, but I always end up thinking of Charlie Kauffman when I see a movie by Payne, whether it's ABOUT SCHMIDT or catching SIDEWAYS on  FX on a random time.

In the aforementioned movies, each character has a very particular problem, but in each case, it feels like I'm going through the problem with them. And even though it's a glorified pity-party, I think that is one of his strengths.  With THE DESCENDANTS, Payne seems to be tapping into another emotional crisis. When Matt King's (Clooney) wife, Elizabeth, hits her head, she is reduced to a vegetative state to the point of dying. Matt also is the head of a trust of his family that had inherited a huge patch of land in Hawaii through their ancestors, and Matt's broke cousins are pressuring him to sell off their land. To top it off, his oldest daughter dropped the bomb that Elizabeth was cheating on Matt.

First of all, since the movie was set in Hawaii, I was expecting to feel annoyingly resentful like I did with that COUPLE'S RETREAT movie from a few years back where all of these rich white people got to make a movie about being rich white people with marriage problems on a beautiful island. But what I loved was that the opening monologue dispels any notions that this is a paradise. As Matt explained, "How can people think that our families are any less messed up or that our cancers are any less deadly?" The point here isn't to have a movie where Hawaii is revered; it seems to be more of a movie where the land, the people, and the culture are honored and respected in a lot of ways. There was beautiful scenery that got thrown in between scenes. You see everything from the delicious beaches to the scope of the land.

This movie had me thinking quite a bit of Jason Reitman's UP IN THE AIR where the main character also played by George Clooney re-examaning his life after a particular event changes everything he knows about his life. Clooney is in top form here. The amount of range that his character goes through surprised me. You see, the marketing for the movie makes it seem like this will be a SIDEWAYS-esque dramatic comedy (not dramedy, use real English , people). But you see him being frustrated; you see him being strong for his daughters; you see him breaking down.

His daughters were very run of the mill; the older one being fucked up and into drugs while the younger one is just dealing with the fact that her mom is comatose by being "rebellious." I'm not going to lie, while they sound like LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE style indie movie cliches, they were surprisingly interesting and dynamic as the story went on.

There was a big issue with the movie that the focus of it is very strangely scattered. There was various plots about the sale of the land, the adulterous wife, the funeral, and the daughter's own problems. All of them come in and out in a way that shifts the tone in a slightly unpleasant manner. I wish that maybe some of the story lines would have been dropped. Maybe less should have been more in this movie's case.

THE DESCENDANTS can go down as yet another example of what a good actor George Clooney is, but there are issues with the focus and all of the plot lines that made the movie feel more disjointed than it needed to be.

1 comment:

  1. Clooney and everybody else included is great but it’s really Payne who shines as the writer bringing out some funny humor but not without forgetting about the real rich moments of human drama. Good review, as usual. A good film but not as great as I was expecting.