Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Movie – The Descendants (2011)

The Descendants is the latest Oscar bait film starring George Clooney.  It’s got all the elements Academy voters like, and it received five nominations, including ones for Best Picture, Best Director for Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways), and Best Actor for Clooney.  It probably should have received a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Shailene Woodley.  While this is a good film, and while it won the Golden Globe for Best Drama, I do not expect it to win much on Oscar night.

George Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer living in Hawaii.  He has two major things going on in his life.  His wife was in a boating accident 23 days earlier and is now in a coma.  This occurs just as he is trying to make a decision on whom to sell 25,000 acres of undeveloped land in Hawaii that he and his cousins own.  They are all descendants of a Hawaiian princess and a rich banker who married in the 1800s (hence the title).

Matt has spent a lot of time at his job and left the raising of their two daughters to his wife.  Ten year old Scottie (Amara Miller) is acting out in response to her mother’s situation and Matt doesn’t know how to make her mind.  Prior to the accident seventeen year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) had been sent to a private school on the Big Island to try to curb some of her wilder tendencies.  Matt is a little disconnected from both of them.

Matt gets the bad news from the doctors that his wife has no brain function.  She is essentially dead and only being kept alive by the machines she is hooked to.  She has a living will that says that she does not want to be kept in a state like this.  Matt retrieves Alexandra from her school so she can be there when her mother is taken off life support, and so that she can maybe help him with Scottie.  Alexandra gives him a second set of bad news – his wife had been carrying on an affair.  Alexandra and her mother had a huge fight over it and that’s why Alexandra has not been home since.

Matt had no idea whatsoever.  He confronts a couple that he and his wife know and finally gets a name from them.  It is no one he is familiar with.  The daughter knows about the affair because she saw her mother and this man going into his house.  She takes her father there.  After a couple of misadventures, they manage to find out who the man is, and where they can locate him.  Matt takes his family to the island of Kauai to confront the man.

As you can tell from the description, this is not the happiest of films.  The movie opens with a voiceover from Matt talking about how everybody thinks that just because he lives in Hawaii that that means he is living every day in paradise; that he doesn’t have problems just like everyone else.  He sums up his attitude, and the message of the film, when he says, “Paradise can go f*ck itself.”

This is a meandering, slowly paced film.  Nothing happens quite as quickly as you think it will.  It didn’t have me looking at a clock, though, and at just under two hours it didn’t seem too long.

Clooney does a good job, but I didn’t quite buy him as a run down schlub whose wife would cheat on him.  As I mentioned at the top, Shailene Woodley did a great job in the film and I felt she deserved a nomination.  I had never seen her before.  I looked her up on IMDB and found out she’s stuck in a contract on a bad TV show.  Here’s hoping she manages to get some other good movie roles soon, because I think she should have a good film career ahead of her.

If you like movies that have lots of action in them, then this is probably not the film for you.  For everyone else, if it sounds interesting, then give it a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

           DVD                      Blu-ray


  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 Chip, as usual. A good film but not as great as I was expecting.

  2. The first time I heard about this movie, I instantly thought Oscar bait and the fact that Clooney kept winning Best Actor awards just annoyed me, but after seeing it, I get it- it really is a good movie! I liked it!

  3. @Dan O. - You hit the nail on the head when you said it was a good film, but not as great as you were expecting. I had the same exact reaction. Election is still my favorite Payne movie. Thanks again for continuining to read and leave comments. It is much appreciated.

    @Aziza - Clooney is well-liked in Hollywood and after some rough years trying to transition from TV star to movie star, he finally started getting respect from them, too. Once he got both of those things, he started getting nominated.