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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Descendants is not a movie that's easily defined. In the macro
view, it's about a man grieving for his wife, who lies in a coma from
which she may never emerge, while simultaneously attempting to care for
his two rambunctious daughters, each of whom is nearly alien to the
workaholic man. But don't hastily dismiss this as a tearjerker about
some guy coming to grips with mortality and/or learning a little
something about himself along the way. This is a movie that runs the
gamut of emotions, with pristine sincerity, grace, dignity, and rich
Matt King (George Clooney) is the workaholic, a lawyer who lives in Hawaii. He has a good life - at least until his thrill-seeking wife suffers a serious head injury during a powerboat race, placing her in a deep coma. Matt's orderly life is no more. He must not only deal with the fact that he may never speak with his wife again, he must also learn an entirely new way of life - one with a domestic tinge. As wife Elizabeth's condition deteriorates, Matt must also deal with family and friends and open doors he never knew existed. All right, that's sort of cryptic, so let me give you this tidbit that is in no way a secret in the plot - Elizabeth, Matt shortly discovers, was having an affair at the time of her accident.
On top of all of that stress and drama, Matt is the sole trustee of a huge plot of land that has been a part of his family for a very, very long time. He and his cousins have decided to field offers for the land, because the trust becomes dissolved in seven short years. Should they sell to the highest bidder or to a local businessman? Either outcome would leave all of them very rich indeed. The sale of the land will make a huge impact on the island, as it could transform what many see as a beautiful, nearly untouched mark of beauty into a symbol of avarice and decadence.
The core of the entire story is Clooney's unbelievably terrific performance; he is vulnerable, strong, confused, decisive, anguished, angry. It's not every actor who can pull off such a wide range of expression, and Clooney is so effective in this movie that you sincerely feel as if you are standing directly in his shoes, seeing all from his perspective rather than just through his eyes. To say that Clooney's Matt is troubled is an understatement, but what makes this performance so remarkable to me is that at no time does he have all of the answers, and at no time does he have no answers at all. He is, to put it another way, us.
The tremendous amount of pressure under which Matt finds himself is exacerbated by his daughters' behavior; partly their reaction to their mother's plight but also because, well, they're precocious and self- absorbed, as most kids are when they're teens or preteens. Add in Matt's cluelessness about how to take care of girls; then you have a real recipe for a wacky sitcom, don't you? Only here it's as real as it gets. First there's 10 year old Scotti (newcomer Amara Miller), who acts out in class - including bringing in pictures of her comatose mother for show and tell. Scotti seems like a girl who just hasn't had enough of a male influence in her short life; you get the impression that Mom was the one who took care of the kids while Dad worked and worked. As a result, Scotti is combining typical rebellious behavior with confusion on how she should feel about her mother's being in a coma. Then there's Alexandra, currently away at boarding school; for her, you get the clear impression that she's a real problem child who's used to being shunted from school to school, like a queen of diamonds in a marked-up deck. She's away when the accident occurs; Matt retrieves her (discovering she's as wild as always) and necessarily leans on her to help him deal with his various problems.
Rest assured, there are moments that will jerk tears from you. However, director Alexander Payne does an amazing job of keeping everything level. This isn't a four-hankie movie, because life isn't a four-hankie movie. Life has its terrible moments and its joyous ones, too, and this film emulates that layer of authenticity to really deliver an emotionally powerful, provocative, and endearing story.
This isn't a movie you can just grab the kids and some popcorn and be lightly entertained, but it's also not a Think Hard movie. It's somewhere in the middle - again, much like life. Payne and cowriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash allow us to become psychologically engaged with everything concerning Matt and his family. We're with him so much that when he makes a blunder, we think to ourselves that we'd probably make the same blunder. It's a pleasure to see a movie in which the protagonist clearly doesn't have all of the answers, even to the easy questions, but has some answers to the hard ones. And that's why this is a hard movie to pigeonhole, and it's also why it's such a beautiful, artful film.
This is a great movie, no doubt about it. But given the combination of
golden globe, Oscar buzz and positive feedback on IMDb, I expected much
The story and the premise of the movie is perfect. In fact, the tagline caught my attention enormously: "trying to reconnect with daughters." That is exactly the type of movie I like. Instantly, I could tell this was a movie about character development and human connection, usually the type of movies with the greatest potential.
Unfortunately, it was merely decent, but not special. It felt like the movie built up so much potential, but failed to release it at a certain point during the movie. The whole movie, for me, felt too introductory in nature. Not necessarily the plot, because the plot does evolve, but the overall "feel" of the movie felt preliminary to a bigger and more dramatic event which never happened.
It's not easy to explain my feelings towards the movie because the fault wasn't necessarily technical or specific. But it did linger around and distracted my viewing somewhat. I felt like there was still more to explore in both Clooney's character and the character of his daughters. Also, I think this element alone impacted on Clooney's performance. His performance was good, definitely, but again, because I felt like there was more to be explored, naturally, I also felt like his performance could have been added to (but not necessarily improved).
Given the Oscar buzz of this movie, I have to compare it to other movies of a similar nature. And unfortunately, I didn't feel like there was sufficient connection between the characters...although the potential to reach that connection was established, it was not acted upon in my opinion. Unfortunately I have to say there have been better developed "re-establishing connection" movies.
In summary, this is an enjoyable movie, but it is missing some important elements which deteriorates the viewing experience to some extent.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie was a bust. The premise is simpleunbelievably simple, given
the length of the movie: a man's wife goes into a coma as the result of
a boating accident and he learns, via one of his daughters, that she
was having an affair. There's more to it, of course, but nothing
interesting: e.g., Clooney in voice-over tells us he's "the back up
parent," so we see a few scenes of him failing at being "Mr. Mom" and a
few scenes of him fighting with his eldest daughter. Yet, remarkably, a
half-hour into the movie the entire family is getting along so well
that they all troop off to a different Hawaiian island in search of the
mystery man Mom was having the affair with, with the oldest daughter
even playing a lead detective role.
What unfolds is hour upon hour of the family walking on beaches, driving down roads, etc., all of which culminates in a kitchen scene where Clooney confronts the man, played by Matt Lillard, about the affair. Lillard, whose acting has not deepened from his Scooby-Doo days, ensures that the scene has no dramatic impact. Then it's back to the hospital to watch Mom die.
The script is unbelievably flat-footed; its idea of humor is having children shout profanity at each other. (I'm no prude-but I'm not 12, either.) There's even an odd disconnect to the more "dramatic" scenes. Because we've never seen anyone interact with Momshe's just a corpse, lying therewe have no way of judging the believability of anyone's reaction to her death. We're simply bludgeoned by the musical score into accepting that any given scene is sad. The movie operates on a simple syllogism: the characters are crying, so you should too.
Still, judging by the audience's reaction, this movie will be a major success. I'm enough of an adult to admit when I'm odd-man-out. At each curse word, the audience roared with laughter; for each tear-jerker scene, the waterworks flowed. The Hawaiian landscape is beautifully shot, and the Hawaiian music is lovely, too. Unfortunately, I didn't pay $9.50 for a travelogue.
The director of this movie, Alexander Payne, was the guy who made
"Sideways." This is a very different movie in that it focuses on family
relationships rather than those between friends and lovers. But, Payne
displays--in this touching and very real movie--the same incredible
talent for doing two things better than almost every other movie maker
(at least as far as I'm concerned): 1) he brings the viewer into the
geography and milieu of the time and place in a gritty way that clearly
presents the natural beauty of the area without over-romanticizing it
and 2) he fits the characters into this environment and achieves a
reality for these people that transcends the 2-dimensional characters
that populate the multiplexes. You really care about these people.
Another similarity between the characters in "Sideways" and this movie is that the protagonists are, in at least one important way, lost. They both are also honest with themselves.
And thank God Payne did not use an orchestra for the soundtrack that would foreshadow and punctuate the scenes telling us how our emotions should run...I will not tell you what the soundtrack is, other than to say it's perfect.
This is not a comedy though there are a few laugh lines. Clooney will get the Oscar for this...how can he not? He is in every scene, and I cannot imagine him being better. And Shailene Woodley plays his older daughter: just amazing. A beautifully realized character.
I tried carefully here to give nothing away but to encourage you to see this as soon as you can. Brilliant.
The Descendants is a tragic and heartfelt family drama set against a
backdrop of the sights and sounds of modern Hawaii. The music is
wonderful, and the scenery of several Hawaiian islands is amazing.
George Clooney is outstanding as the father of a family torn apart by tragedy. His character deals with unsettling secrets of his dying wife and his broken relationships with his two troubled daughters. Forced to deal with the consequences of neglecting his family, Clooney does a great job capturing conflicting and powerful emotions.
Shailone Woodley does a wonderful job as the rebellious older daughter, who captures the anger and hurt of a teenager betrayed by her mother and abandoned by her father. Her relationship with her father is the heart of the movie, and they slowly learn to rely on each other for support and strength in dealing with the loss of their mother/wife.
The film has a wonderful supporting cast that adds humanity and heart to the tragic story. Nick Krause stands out as the oldest daughter's friend, who adds a touch of laughter and perspective to the film. His open and carefree personality grates on the characters initially but helps them to eventually gain perspective on the tragic events.
Overall, the Descendants was an excellent movie that captures the raw emotions of a family dealing with betrayal, pain, and loss and learning to draw together for love and support.
I hadn't seen so many elderly folks in a movie theatre, since I saw The
King's Speech last year. I suppose there is a bit of irony in
considering that a film called the Descendants has an audience of
The best thing about the movie however, is that I think it can be appreciated greatly by any adult age group, elder or not. There are laughs to be had and tears to be shed. The film centres around middle aged, Matt King; a Hawaiian land baron attempting to connect with his children with the knowledge that his comatose wife is at death's doorstep, and he knows that she had an affair before her accident. Meanwhile, he is under pressure from his network of cousins to sell his inherited land to the kind of real estate that wants to put up a seaside condo-mania.
In essence, it's a recovery story. The formula is not entirely 'new' yet the somewhat paradoxical balance of refinement and dry humour are enough to elevate this to a very well rounded story. As far as drama comedies go, The Descendants is ideal.
This may be George Clooney's best lead performance to date. I think it is the first role that doesn't require him to be slick or charismatic even for a moment. He is rather scruffy, but more importantly, he is human. Clooney brings range to the role, hitting all the right notes, funny and serious alike.
I like the fact that even though we are on Hawaii (a photographer's paradise) the island doesn't look all that special. It's important that The islands look just as mundane to the audience as it would to the characters who inhabitant it. Most of the time it's cloudy, and low brow, except for the few moments where it is necessary to bring out the sunshine, as we stand on a cliffs edge with the King family overlooking dozens of acres of land which could very soon become merchandise.
Another thing I like about the Descendents (which you don't see often) is an ending that is both happy and sad. Some say that great films are the ones that leave you wanting more. The Descendants did this to me, and it's probably the closest thing to a great film I've seen this year.
Alexander Payne hasn't made a film from the director's chair since his
incredible Sideways back in 2004. Seven years later, he finally
returns, and with The Descendants, he returns with a bang.
Like Sideways, his screenplay (co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) nails the tone right on the head. It has to balance out three tricky narratives in the film (Matt King's self-crisis, his comatose wife's affair with another man before her boating accident, and a land deal he's reported to make), and without the proper guidance it needed, along with Payne's own confidant direction, it could have faltered. Thankfully, it balances out heavy themes and complicated emotions in uncommon detail.
The characters in this movie are many, complicated, and sorrowful in their own unique ways. Matt King was a perfect role for George Clooney. He keeps his composure, but we can still see a very heavy, filtered sorrow beneath the surface. Shailene Woodley's character (Woodley, by the way, gives one of the year's best performances) begins with a rebellious, even angry sadness, but we can see her develop over the course of the film, gaining a strong maturity beyond her years. Judy Greer and Robert Forster are each given a few spare scenes, and they make every second of their screen time count.
It really is an emotional ride, even depressing sometimes, but I'm surprised by the occasional review I read where critics say they didn't feel the emotion to be sincere. In my opinion, the emotions of the film never hit a single false note. I don't think just anybody could have made this movie the way it is. This isn't a typical drama, the movie's genre is Payne, and he knows exactly what he's doing.
***1/2 out of ****
I love the freedom oozing from Alexander Payne's films. The clarity and simplicity of the idea and its execution. All the answers and unity found under a grieving cloud. George Clooney's Matt King is, quite simply, superb. The humanity of the man mingling with his contradictions. So refreshing to spend time with this immediately recognizable man. I couldn't help but loving him. If it's true that Clooney dominates the film, he is surrounded by compelling characters. His eldest daughter, played by the remarkable Shailene Woodley for instance or her boyfriend, a winning Nick Krause, contribute to make "The Descendants" one of the best films of 2011.
This movie is one of the best movies I've seen in a while, and that's
judging it from what it is. I became a fan of A P after watching
Sideways and ended up reading the book before watching the movie. I
think the biggest problem people have with this movie is that it's not
the typical "HOLLYWOOD" movie that forces "emotion" down our throat nor
is it the typical "INDIE" film with shaky cameras, far out one shots
and so on. It's simple, a bit plain, and raw. We're presented with
characters that may not seem interesting at first look, but when it
comes down to it, AP has once again showed us a reflection of ourselves
and people we know around us. We're normal. We're not all flashy people
with cool lives and have interesting personalities. Some people just
ARE and live that way. I recently lost the person who would have been
my mother in law. I'm twenty four, and my girlfriend is twenty two, and
her little sister is fourteen. My girlfriend has recently taken custody
over her sister, and with their father passing away before the little
sister was born, I've found myself in a bit of a father role and it's
scary and new and very strange at times. I completely related to
Clooney's character right away, and could feel the frustration he felt,
and the emotions he felt. I think he did well with dealing with them.
It felt real to me. In fact, everyone's emotions toward the tragedy the
film presents felt very real. I saw those same reactions from sisters,
aunties, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers. Some blamed others
while others completely lost it. Some felt mad, while others just cried
and broke down. Some were oblivious to the news(like the grand mother
in the movie) while others were simply there to comfort(Sid). I really
appreciated the entire movie, scenery, and dialogue(and at times lack
there of). I really enjoyed the frustration they felt one minute, the
humor the next, and the forgetfulness of the tragedy at times. It was
like seeing a movie based on what my girlfriend and I were going
through, and it felt comforting that someone had captured that so well.
Not every tragedy will be filled with a room full of criers. Some
might. Not all we be filled with humor and relief. Some will. For us,
it was everything. It didn't seem real, and at times, it seemed dull.
This movie has a special way of presenting itself in that manner and I
really liked it. I'm sure not everyone will like. Either they're use to
super hero action movies, horror movies, or stuff like Twilight. Maybe
you are into good dramas and indie flicks and for whatever reason you
didn't connect with that one. For me, a person who's just lived through
it and am discovering to be a dad type to someone I'm still getting to
it was simple, perfect.
It has been quite some time since the Toronto International Film
Festival, but I still have trouble coming up with something negative to
say about The Descendants. It was a film I was immensely excited to
see, and one that I think I just managed to squeak into on the second
last day of the festival. I tried to not overhype myself, but with
George Clooney teaming up with Alexander Payne, a filmmaker whose last
film was made almost a decade ago, I could barely contain myself.
Matt King (Clooney) just found out that his wife is in a coma in the hospital. Matt has always been one to put things off, and has never really found time for his kids. But in this time of need, he finds that he is struggling to identify with older daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller). When he learns of a stunning secret about his wife, it thrusts him into an adventure alongside his daughters to find out the truth, while also finding himself.
From beginning to end, Payne has crafted an endearing film that is hilarious and devastating, often in the same sequence. This is a more calculated family-related effort than I originally thought it would be (with a bit too much emphasis placed on the extended family and land owning subplot), but it is the driving force of everything that happens on-screen. He never overindulges, and never gets too far ahead of himself. He lets the drama play out just as much as he does the comedy, and always keeps the film moving at a borderline ridiculous pace. This may be an indie, but it speaks more to the mainstream than Sideways ever even tried to. It is a truly spectacular work, and one that proves the worth of a talent that has been gone for far too long.
While he already solidified his leading man status years ago, Clooney quite simply knocks this one out of the park. It is not the typical role we are accustomed to seeing him in, and I think that is what sells it the most. This is a very mature role for Clooney, away from the playboys, the lotharios and the screwballs. He is out of his element, much like the character he is playing, thrust into a situation he never expected in a very adult way. He plays Matt in a very nuanced way, always hovering along the fine line of being a struggling parent and having a full blown emotional breakdown. Clooney has continually proved that he is willing to reinvent himself, and his work here is no different. From the moment he steps on-screen, you are simply enamoured by his presence. We can see the brief twinkle in his eye that suggests he is still the Clooney we all know and adore, but his hardened exterior suggests he is trying to camouflage that fact. I said years ago that Up in the Air was his strongest work. But his work here makes it look positively amateur in comparison.
For all of Clooney's brilliance, it is surprising to note that Woodley almost steals the movie entirely away from him. While she has had quite a lot of experience on television, this is her first real film role and is an immeasurable breakout. The trailer suggests she is a bit of a wild child, but seeing the heartbreak and pain in her face after she finds out what has happened to her mother is enough to make you want to weep uncontrollably. Lucky for her, she gets more than one scene to prove her emotional chops, and she nails each and every one. She holds her own against Clooney, and has just the right amount of charisma and angst to make her character above and beyond believable. Her struggle to find her place and to help her father on this adventure is the emotional crux of the film, and the real driving spirit. She may be extremely younger than Clooney is, but she is an old soul. Their relationship and chemistry is amazing, and should she have been acting against a less capable actor, I doubt she would be anywhere near as powerful as she is.
The supporting cast, made up of Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Nick Krause, Robert Forster and an almost unrecognizable Matthew Lilliard, are all excellent in their small roles. All of them get some really memorable moments to shine, and help to make Clooney and Woodley's performances even greater. Special mention needs to go to both Patricia Hastie, who is confined to a hospital bed for all but about thirty seconds of her screen-time as Matt's wife Elizabeth, and newcomer Miller as Scottie. She is naive and innocent throughout, never once coming off as that annoying kid you try to forget exists. She has a lot of fun in the role, and strikes a real emotional chord at just the right moments. I can only hope directors continue to use her in the future for roles that are just as good, if not better.
It may have taken me practically two months to write about it, but I still find myself at a loss for words about The Descendants. It is finally rolling out into theatres now, and I cannot wait to see the film again. The cast is amazing, with Clooney coming out swinging. Payne may have taken his time finding a follow-up for Sideways, but what he has returned with is nothing short of amazing. Run, drive, fly whatever you have to do, just make sure you do not miss it.
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