“The Descendants” Movie Review


     Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” might throw you off a little bit initially.  After all, if you’ve seen the trailer, then you’ve seen George Clooney in a few quirky moments  in the film and you know Alexander Payne brought us the hilarious “Sideways”.  So when you begin watching The Descendants, many bad things continue to happen and at a certain point, you begin to wonder when the funny parts will come.  Unfortunately, those moments are rare, but that doesn’t mean your not in for a quality film.  The Descendants is excellent from top to bottom.   Payne and Nat Faxon’s screenplay is impeccable and awards worthy.  The acting is superior from the biggest parts to even the smallest as Payne ensures everyone who speaks has their own impact on the story.  Most of all, George Clooney gives one of the finest performances of his career.

     This film in particular really shows the range which Clooney is capable of.  Last year, he played an airline miles obsessed head of a corporate firing squad in “Up in the Air” and at the time I felt that may have been his most brilliant performance.  In The Descendants, Clooney takes it to another level as he is challenged in this role in many different ways and is forced to show emotions in many difficult situations.

     Clooney plays Matt King, a successful real estate attorney who lives in Oahu, Hawaii with his wife and two daughters.  When the film opens, you see his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) having the time of her life water skiing, but then reality hits.  We learn Elizabeth had a bad accident and is now in a coma.  Through narration, Matt tells us he has not taken the lead in raising their two daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alex (Shailene Woodley) and has been thrust into that lead role with his wife in the hospital.  Whereas, he went to work and made money for the family, he now has inherited all of the problems that come with raising a 10 year old and a 17 year old.  I suppose Payne could’ve made a film simply about Matt’s struggles in parenting, but the story hardly stops there.

     In the back drop, there is a big real estate deal brewing.  As it is explained, Matt is the sole trustee of 25,000 acres in Kauai owned and passed down by generations of the King family.  There are numerous King family members who stand to gain from the sale of this land and they have already considered bids from several developers to the tune of half a billion dollars.  Even though Matt is going through a difficult time, the money grubbing family members continue to push Matt to sign the deal and sell the land.  Now we have two major issues Matt is dealing with, but there’s one more that may send him over the edge.

     Alex breaks the news to her dad that her mom had been cheating on him and this was the reason they had not been speaking.  Talk about a tough one.  Its not like Matt can confront her since she’s in a coma, but he can find out who it was with.  Matt’s investigation into his wife’s affair lends to some of the funnier moments in the film.  In particular, Alex convinces Matt to let her boyfriend tag along during all of this and his calming, yet immature, look at the situation seems to give even Matt another perspective to consider.

     There is, in fact, so much going on in this film that reflects in the lives we live everyday.  To often, movies focus on one sole plot point and takes us from A to Z, but that’s not how life is.  Life is complex and we are constantly bombarded with new issues to deal with everyday.  Sure, Matt’s issues may seem extraordinary, but when you think about it, they are really not.  People endure this kind of stress all the time.  The Descendants is a look into the life of a man and how he chooses to handle these predicaments, right or wrong.

     With the best and most quality 2011 films upon us, I will immediately put The Descendants in that category.  Look for George Clooney to be mentioned as a possible Best Actor nominee for this film with Payne likely picking up a screenwriting nod.  Depending on how much buzz builds up, I think a Best Picture nomination is also likely.  As a study on life and the everyday circumstances many of us deal with, The Descendants couldn’t be more accurate.  Its not an uplifting film, but then again life is rarely uplifting either.  GRADE: A-