Cert: 15 Runtime: 104 mins Director: Alexander Payne Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller
Paradise can go fuck itself!
Well George Clooney is the man of the hour this year, he has collected several awards for his leading role in The Descendants, obviously with it being Oscar season it was time for me to see what the whole fuss is about The Descendants.The story follows 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.
I never really had high expectations for The Descendants. First off, I have never seen an Alexander Payne film, and the story itself sort of seemed like the type of film that would end up on a long list of solid films that end up being unmemorable. Much to my surprise, it has a sort of tone that you don’t see often in these types of films.This is a film that carefully treads around the edges. I wouldn’t say it ever became too sentimental. Yet I also expected a snappy dialogue- filled, fast-paced dramedy, sort of like Reitman’s Up in the Air, that other Clooney film. The film is written and plays out like a real life situation. One could maybe try to say that about any film like this, but here it rings true. To say it’s slow or fast paced isn’t really what matters, but what matters is how much it develops its characters with real richness and detail. In a way, the screenplay is helped a lot by Payne as a director, not because the writing is thin, but because the direction allows the film to feel sort of spontaneous. This isn’t a film full of twists or turns, and yet at every corner when you try to analyze it, you realize how unpredictable it all feels. I have also heard one thing about it in many reviews, and that is how it’s messy like life. One can easily read those descriptions and just roll his or her eyes, but that description really holds truth. The film doesn’t feel to glamorous or stylized. It certainly isn’t the dramedy with witty one liners that I expected. Instead, when it’s all over, you take a step back and realize that it all feels sort of messy. It’s not complicated, and in fact it’s a pretty simple film, but even the editing helps this certain mood that the film leaves you in. It’s simple, yet hard to really pinpoint and describe how it all comes together or how it’s something of real importance. This is completely refreshing, especially when films these days hammer you with these sort of messages or details.
I now want to talk about the performances, which are stellar. Clooney just won the Globe a couple of days ago, and now I look at it and think to myself “wow… of all of his performances, this is getting him awards?”. It’s a very restrained performance, and no, it isn’t a transformation. Some will once again say that Clooney is only “playing himself”, but to me, when Clooney does great, he really nails it. He gives all of his performances something distinct about them, and this is perhaps his wild-card character. He doesn’t add in his usual smoothness that we see a lot from him. This stands apart, and I am surprised for that reason for its success. Shailene Woodley is fantastic here as well, and really impressed me with the sort of indignation and maturity that she mixes together. She’s better than most of the contenders for the Oscar in her category, more specifically Octavia Spencer, Melissa McCarthy, and Janet McTeer.I loved this film. I wasn’t sure of it while I was seeing it, but after it’s over, as hard as it is to really describe and know why I enjoyed it so much, I did. The sort of atmosphere and mood that it had me in doesn’t come along very often, especially not with dramas like this. 8.0/10