The Descendants (2011)
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Based On: “The Descendants” (Novel) By: Kaui Hart Hennings
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: R
Time: 115 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Drama
USA Release: 11/16/2011 (Limited)
On DVD (USA): 3/13/2012
Awards: 1 Academy Award Win, 4 Academy Award Nominations, 3 BAFTA Award Nominations, 2 Golden Globe Wins, 3 Golden Globe Nominations
What can I say to give you any indication how great “The Descendants” is. Could I just say it was amazing, no, that doesn’t completely cover it. There just isn’t the right words to give you a good opening to this review. So I’ll just have to simply say that besides having Alexander Payne direct and George Clooney star, this film is a very touching, heartfelt and truthful look at life between any family during anytime in any place.
In “The Descendants” (based on the book of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings) we meet and follow Matt King (George Clooney) who is struggling with many things, even more so after his wife’s boating accident which left her comatose. He is deciding what to do with his families land that he is the sole trustee of, while trying to reconnect with his two daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) who both seem to be going down a dark path. But while trying to keep his head above water doing all of this he gets disturbing news that his wife has a life changing secret.
This could have turned into a melodramatic mess if put in the wrong hands but because of Alexander Payne it’s become a beautifully put together film. Payne does a great job of telling this story, he takes his time having everything just flow together perfectly, the pacing is as relaxed as you would imagine Hawaii to be. Along with that relaxed pace Payne and his cinematographer Phedon Papamichael really take you on a trip showing you the beautiful locations across Hawaii, tons of wonderful places from the houses to the beaches to just the landscape, a photographers paradise. But our focus is on the story which is one that could happen to anyone, and like Matt King says at the beginning just because they live in paradise doesn’t mean that they don’t have problems. Anyways the story is an adventure all it’s own, a journey that none of them planed on making but through that and all the pain along with it, it makes them stronger people and a stronger family. And like with life itself there is unpredictability along with bursts of laughter and lighthearted fun that makes this feel all the more moving and realistic. Adding to the story and location of Hawaii is the soundtrack that uses traditional Hawaiian music through with various artists. Using lots of acoustic guitars and ukuleles, it just makes you feel more apart of everything. But what has to be the best thing about this film are the absolutely wonderful performances given by the entire cast. While some big names float through the supporting cast list, many of them only have a few small scenes, but overall deliver good performances. Some of those actors are Beau Bridges who plays one of the cousins to Matt King, Mary Birdsong who plays a friend of the King family and Robert Forster, who plays Matt’s father-in-law. Forster of course hits it out of the park with his performance that make you want to hit him, but his is after all a grieving father who is only thinking of his wife and daughter, they are all he sees good or bad. Judy Greer who is also part of the supporting cast with a role I will not mention that way it doesn’t spoil things, is like always brilliant although seen very little. She shows a rare side with a somewhat dramatic performance, however you do get a laugh with her. With a bigger part in the supporting cast is Matthew Lillard who I again won’t mention his role to not spoil anything, is sleazy in an offbeat kind of way because of what he knowingly did, but overall Lillard had a good performance.
Now we get to the main focus with our leads which are the King family themselves along with Sid the friend. Speaking of Sid, Nick Krause did a surprisingly excellent performance with a role that I didn’t expect to be as big. As Sid, Krause shows us that although he doesn’t seem to take life seriously it doesn’t mean there isn’t something going on. Another high point in the cast is Amara Miller who plays Scottie King, and to my surprise this is her first role ever. As Scottie, Miller portrays her very realistically having her brattiness never go too far overboard. She is obviously hurt and confused by what is going on and that might be why she is acting out the way she is. But because her father hasn’t been really involved in her life it’s hard to tell if it’s something new or has been happening for a while. And of course we can’t forget the breakout star of this, Shailene Woodley who plays Alexandra King. Known for her role on “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” this turns out to basically be her first feature film role, but the surprising part is that she is excellent in this, far better than what you see on TV. She shows more range and that she actually has chops, her best scene is where she cries underwater, you really never see that in other films. She could possible get herself an Oscar nomination for this performance. Another thing that brings the realism up is also the chemistry between Woodley and Clooney, which has to be one of the best father-daughter pairings I’ve ever seen. Speaking of Mr. George Clooney, he as you know plays Matt King and already is getting heavy Oscar buzz for his performance which is as brilliant as everyone has been saying. He brings his heart and soul to this role showing venerability and compassion. He really can play any role, although he doesn’t look like the everyday man, he completely lays everything on the table and in the end accomplishes just that. Even though I haven’t seen every thing he has been in, I wouldn’t doubt that this is like the critics are saying the best performance of his career.
Overall, “The Descendants” is absolutely brilliant and one of the best films of the year. It touches your heart with it’s story of reconnecting with your family, even giving you a bunch of laughs throughout. Along with it’s heart is the realism that is brought out with the location and also the excellent performances done by the entire cast. Among the cast Clooney and Woodley are two more people to look for in the upcoming Oscar race, while one may just get a nomination the other seems to have a lock at winning. Definitely check this out if it’s playing near you.