Movie Review: The Descendants

I saw Alexander Payne’s new film, The Descendants, over the weekend as well. It’s not as great as some of his other films (Sideways, Citizen Ruth, and especially Election). but it fits in amongst his work and is certainly a good film.

Descendants is about a Hawaiian man (George Clooney) who’s wife just went into a coma, and now he has to raise his two daughters by himself for the first time. The film takes place over a couple weeks and mainly deals with him and his daughters struggling to cope with his wife’s horrible situation. He also learns things about her that make everything more complicated, and he’s put in a situation where he can’t decide whether to feel remorseful or vengeful. In addition to that he’s also a direct descendant of King Kamehameha (had to look up the spelling on that one), and he needs to decide whether or not to sell off the last untouched portion of Hawaii, which has been in his family trust for generations, or make a bunch of money for he and his cousins and sell it and make it a tourist resort.

So… this movie is complicated!

That’s one of the best aspects of it though. It never gives any of the characters any kind of easy answers. Every choice is a struggle. There is a lot of brilliance in the writing, and the directing is good as expected. It does a good job establishing character arcs for the main players, and I never felt as if anybody was one-dimensional. Even the little girl had some depth to her character.

The acting is fantastic as well. Clooney gives a mostly quiet, subtle performance, with some powerful moments sprinkled in here and there. I don’t know who either of the daughters were played by, but I assume they were newcomers, and they held their own. The wife in the coma seemed very coma’y… Even the two or three unlikable characters eventually become at least understandable, if not ultimately likable by the end.

Family is the core theme of the film. Whether or not to forgive the ones you love in complicated situations, whether you need to keep your family together despite the obvious temptation to throw it all away. This is a good drama, that moves by at a decent pace (maybe just 10 minutes too long?) and it presented me with a lot to think about. It’s maybe not a landmark film by any means, but it’s a really good film if you like dialogue heavy drama with pinches of comedy sprinkled in there. If you’re a fan of Alexander Payne’s previous work, I’d recommend this.

Or if you like Hawaiian imagery, there’s plenty of beautiful cinematography to keep you visually stimulated. Has there ever been a film shot in Hawaii that didn’t at least *look* good?

8 out of 10

3 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Descendants

  1. CMrok93 says:

    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. A good film but not as great as I was expecting.

    • scottodactyl says:

      I agree, falls short of greatness, just lingers on a really decent level. There were a few scenes, like the girl crying in the pool, where I thought to myself “what an amazing shot/sequence”, still it wasn’t quite as powerful as it should have been for some reason.

      Payne is still a dude to get excited about when a new movie of his comes out, though. He’s one of those few modern filmmakers that has such a great, short list of awesome films that a start to crap my pants in anticipation when a new movie comes out. (others: Wes Anderson, Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jason Reitman, Edgar Wright, etc)

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