"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Movie Review: The Descendants

Having seen most of Alexander Payne's recent filmography, I thought I knew what kind of film The Descendants would turn out to be.  Most of Payne's lead characters are troubled and usually going through some kind of life crisis.  While this is true of Matt King (George Clooney) in the film, I didn't expect to have that extra emotional depth of the family bond between King and his daughters.

The film opens with King in the hospital and he's been there awhile, his wife Elizabeth has been in a coma after a boating accident.  While their relationship is rocky at best, he can't imagine his life without her.  However, the doctor informs him that there is nothing more they can do for her and since her will stipulates she be taken off life support, that is what they must do.  Matt, initially, is unsure what to do.  He hasn't been alone with his younger daughter, Scottie, 10, since she was three and his eldest is away at school.  But rally he does, bringing back Alexandra and trying to figure out how move forward.

Then he receive another bombshell from Alexandra that changes his life and puts the main characters on a quest across the islands of Hawaii to find a man with a connection to his wife, I won't spoil it here.  Here is where Matt begins his journey into becoming a single father to his daughters and try to instill some values in them, however late.  He also tries to figure out what would his wife want even though they weren't on the best terms when she had her accident.  I do wonder how many men in his position would have actually did what Matt did.  There's also a side plot of an inheritance of land in Hawaii which Matt and his family are considering to sell.  That works in neatly to the story as Matt tries to figure out what exactly is important in life.

The scenes between Clooney and his daughters (Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller) are wonderful, at times funny and at times heartbreaking.  There are lot of goodbyes and things to be accomplished before they say farewell to Elizabeth.  There is no doubt that this will go down as George Clooney's best performance.  There is less of a suave movie star personality than an everyday man aura here (and lot more gray hairs too!).  The scenery and photography of Hawaii is stunning as usual but I do think this story could have worked anywhere.  As Matt King mentions in his opening narration, just because they live in a paradise doesn't mean they don't have their share of the same problems everywhere has.

Alexander Payne's films since Election have these characters who are flawed, yes, but they are just trying to get through life without screwing it up so much.  As a writer-director of this film, he manages to balance the humor with the real center of the film, a very depressing subject of a death of loved one.  But the last scene with the family will bring a smile to your face.   Overall, a worthy nominee for Best Picture of the year, indeed.


Directed by Alexander Payne; Screenplay by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash; Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings; Cinematography by Phedon Papamichael; Editing by Kevin Tent.

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