The Descendants

3
0 5

Trouble in Paradise

Reviewed by Rebecca Wilson
on Tue, Jan 24 2012

The Descendants tells a very sad story in a moderately humorous way. The acting is good, there's George Clooney and it's set in Hawaii, one of the most beautiful places on earth. That must be why so many people think it's so much more terrific than it actually is.

See / Skip
See it if: 
George Clooney is why you get up in the morning
You prefer melancholy comedies to either drama or slapstick
You have Hawaii fantasies
Your spouse needs to be inspired to be a more active parent
Skip it if: 
Your spouse is in a coma
You just found out that your spouse has been cheating
You would rather eat glass than watch a family drama
For Hawaii, there is a shocking lack of T&A

There are a lot of terrible movies out there. Most, in fact. I think this must explain how a faultless movie can be mistaken for a great movie by so many.

The Descendants is a very good film. There is not a single negative thing I can say about it. It was perfectly done. The acting wasn't overblown or melodramatic, which really says something in a movie about a woman being taken off life support. It has everything that is beloved about Alexander Payne's other two best movies, About Schmidt and Sideways. It's touching and sad and humorous. You watch it thinking, "That could be me."

But The Descendants didn't amaze or inspire me. I never thought, "Wow, this is art."

I don't hold that against it in any way -- I only ask to be entertained by the movies I see; I rarely ask to be blown away. Except by movies that are nominated for Golden Globes and Oscars and SAG awards. Then I raise the bar.

The Descendants took the Golden Globe for Best Drama; it has been nominated for five Oscars, including best picture, best director and, mystifyingly, best actor for George Clooney's performance as George Clooney.

Don't get me wrong -- we love to watch Clooney play himself. Dude can say his lines better than most. On a rare occasion (The American, Syriana), he plays somebody other than a down-to-earth guy's guy making his way in the world thanks in no small part to his transfixing eyes.

The Descendants is not one of those movies.

Clooney plays Matt King, a Honolulu-based lawyer and the sole trustee of 25,000 acres of pristine land on the island of Kaua'i. By law, the trust will expire in seven years, so Matt and his 15 or so cousins (of which only Beau Bridges has a speaking role) have decided to sell the land to a Kaua'i developer. Just one of those boring land deals that happen every day; except in Hawaii, no land deal is ever boring.

Then Matt's wife, Elizabeth, gets in a boating accident, which puts her into a coma. This happens off-screen, about five seconds after the movie begins. The movie isn't about her or her accident -- it's about the family coming to terms with her life and impending death, as well as selling out their ancestors' inheritance.  

Matt, who had always considered himself to be the "back-up parent," is suddenly in charge of his wild-child daughters: 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley). Not knowing very much about them, this proves to be a massive challenge -- especially when Alex informs him that Elizabeth had been having a serious affair at the time of her death.

Whoa! Your spouse is cheating on you and will never waken to offer up some kind of explanation. Serious bummer.

Matt and his girls set off to confront the Other Man (Matthew Lillard), as well as the major life changes they are about to face. Parts are funny, parts are sad, parts are sweet.

The most remarkable thing about The Descendants is the most remarkable thing about every movie shot in Hawaii, even the turds. That is Hawaii. It is an astonishingly beautiful paradise. At one point, in a voiceover, Matt speaks to the naivete of people who think that people who live there don't have the same trials and tribulations as folks on the mainland. He is annoyed by this. But I think Matt is the one who is being naive.

Yes, having to pull the plug on your cheating wife sucks. It's a miserable experience that nobody should ever have to go through. But if you had to, if there was no other choice, wouldn't you rather be in Hawaii than Detroit or St. Louis or Dallas? Yeah, that's what I thought.

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R
115 mins.
English
$ 4M
$ 61M