Directed by: Alexander Payne
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause
Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins
Release Date: November 23, 2011
PLOT: Matt (Clooney) tries to connect with his two daughters after his wife gets into a boating accident. He also oversees a large piece of untouched Hawaiian land, and it might be time to sell.
WHO’S IT FOR? Fans of George Clooney and family drama should flock to this film. Be prepared for more tears than laughter.
EXPECTATIONS: I knew nothing, and honestly, you should truly try to follow the same suit. The previews dive too quickly into plot details I was thrilled not to know. Once again, I will do my best to avoid plot spoilers.
I am attempting to go “spoiler free” with this review and that means not including big plot swings that happen in the first 25 minutes of the film.
Tragedy makes people more interesting. It is true. The Descendants thrives on this detail. Matt King (Clooney) was walking through life, when it smacked him awake. Now, with his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) in the hospital in a coma, he has to lose his status as back-up parent and take the starring role, even though he’s not really equipped to deal with his two daughters.
Alexander Payne’s film isn’t just about a man dealing with his wife in the hospital. The layers of tragedy are piled high on Matt’s plate. With his wife in a coma, he learns about some serious secrets she was keeping from him. He also must figure out a land deal, with every single cousin expecting him to do the “right thing.” Unfortunately family members have different ideas on what the “right thing” is with the absolutely gorgeous Hawaiian land. Setting this film in Hawaii works perfectly for this tragedy. As Matt’s character narrates in the beginning of the film, people think those who live in Hawaii are on a permanent vacation. Once we start seeing all facets of Matt’s life, we realize that is not the case.
There is pain for Matt in every turn. Scott (Robert Forster) pushes Matt’s buttons as his father-in-law. Matt’s daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is a kid who speaks her mind and perhaps is a little overly creative. This is shown when Scottie makes a collage of her mother in the hospital and talks exceptionally rude to other kids in the school (and to Matt as well). Matt’s other daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) isn’t doing any better. Drugs and alcohol fill her life, as well as some shared secrets with her mother. It’s like Matt has barely spent any time with his kids, and simply put, doesn’t know how to talk to them, control them or even love them.
When Sid (Nick Krause) shows up, it seems like the movie has pushed too far. It’s enough for Matt to have to deal with his life, but also dealing with Alexandra’s idiot, rude friend? It’s too much. Until you realize that’s the whole point. The entire film is wrapped around Matt reacting. He’s reacting to overwhelming obstacles, which could happen to any one of else. It is life, it is tragedy, and it is incredibly sad.
I cried more in this movie than any other in 2011. Yes, there are moments of comedy and release, but mainly for me it is about the sadness. Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Rob Huebel and Beau Bridges add it a list of actors who pop in and add another layer of drama to Matt’s life. I found that I didn’t actually care about the outcome of The Descendants, I just wanted to watch and learn how Matt would deal with the situations that kept coming his way. It’s very rare for me to not root, simply to enjoy, even if enjoyment meant wishing I would have brought some tissues. It is great work by George Clooney and once again proves Alexander Payne is a fantastic storyteller.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10