Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Descendants

Directed (and co-written) by Alexander Payne, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011. Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges and Robert Forster.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Question: Can you feel sympathy for a character that neglected or ignored his family but then suddenly has to pay attention when thrust back into the responsibility of being a parent? Honestly, you have to answer that one for yourself. For me, I could not. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I don't know but will give you my thoughts on the film; and I will let you decide on your own after you see it.

I went to my first movie theatre screener last night with The Descendants. Since the end of the movie, I have been mulling this story over trying to figure out if I liked it or not. There is a lot of buzz about this movie, specifically about George Clooney and Alexander Payne (who last came out with Sidewayswhich I loved), so I was really looking forward to this film. However, something fell short for me with the story and its main character.

The movie started out with panoramic views of Hawaii (some beautiful and some not-so) with Matt King (George Clooney) giving his first narrated monologue. Usually narration kind of annoys me or I think it's overused today but know sometimes it is necessary and beneficial in certain films. For The Descendants it was actually a perfect fit. In fact, the opening narration struck a chord with me. Pay close attention to what he says about living in paradise. From that point I was really enjoying the film and attentive of all introductions of characters and story-lines but somewhere along the way the film sort of lost me.

I suppose I should back up a little. A brief (very) synopsis of the film. Matt King is a father, husband and lawyer who is the trustee of a large parcel of land in Hawaii that has been in his family's possession for over a 100 years. He is quite wealthy but doesn't spend his inheritance and works all the time for his law practice while pretty much ignoring or neglecting his immediate family. A tragic accident happens to his wife, who ends up in a coma, and things start to unravel for him.

All of the above is revealed within the first 15 minutes of the movie; and you meet a distraught man who has no idea how to cope with the sudden responsibility of taking care of his daughters. He even reveals "I'm the back-up parent." When I first heard that line in the previews, I thought he and his wife were either separated or divorced. So when I found out differently I had difficulty sympathizing with this character, and in certain scenes it made it even harder to see his plight. Pay attention to his first "talk" with his wife in the hospital. That made me retreat as a spectator and become very cautious, but I waited for some sort of redemption for his character after that.

That is all I will say about that because I feel I have gone against my norm and revealed a little too much.

So let me focus on other details for now: George Clooney did an excellent job portraying a man in crisis. He may be one of a handful of actors that can just sit there, silently, but still reveal so much emotion and depth. Don't believe me? Well, watch Michael Clayton, an excellent film, but the last 5 minutes of it proves George Clooney's talent of silent acting. He was brilliant.

In The Descendants you will see him use that gift again and again. I won't be surprised if he is nominated for many awards for this role. However, I just never developed much sympathy for his character despite what he went through during the movie. Perhaps I just saw his character's arc differently than most, because after the "talk" with his wife and then later there was a scene he shares with the young fellow, who is friends with his daughter, just left me cold. It is all about perception, I suppose. You all may see something different.

Alexander Payne has created other characters that maybe many don't care for or find a kinship with; but somewhere over the course of the movie you understand them, feel for the character or the character redeems themselves in a pure, honest way. However, in The Descendants, he did not win me over with the main character. Many may disagree with me but that is how I saw it.

Sorry, this may not be the typical movie review for me or that I may have just changed your mind on seeing the movie. Many reviewers saw the opposite from me; and George Clooney did perform beautifully, so I am not saying don't see it. Just keep an open mind.

My favorite part: Perhaps I forgot to mention that it is quite funny at parts. I did giggle.

My least favorite part: Realizing what it takes for some people to fully understand that their neglect really affects others.

Rating: R
Length: 115 minutes

Review: 6 out of 10

Based on the novel by the same name: The Descendants: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books)

Click on film poster to watch instantly:

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