Descendants, The

Release date: November 18, 2011
Director: Alexander Payne
Novel by: Kaui Hart Hemmings
Screenplay by: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster, Beau Bridges, Patricia Hastie

Let’s be honest: the idea of Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways) and George Clooney working together sounded great in theory. But the execution of said idea in The Descendants wasn’t all that great.

The Descendants starts like Payne’s Election and every season premiere of HBO’s Hung: with narration. The narrator, Matt King (Clooney), is a man whose wife, Elizabeth (Hastie), remains comatose after a boating accident. The accident sets up Matt reconnecting with his two daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Miller) and 17-year-old Alexandra (Woodley). Reconnecting isn’t easy. They didn’t spend much time with their dad growing up because he’s a workaholic lawyer.

Life changes for Matt once he learns that his wife cheated on him, leading him to find the truth about it with his daughters and Alexandra’s boyfriend, Sid (Krause).

Given the sizeable amount of awards buzz surrounding The Descendants, I wished I could say that I loved the film. Unfortunately, I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the film is easy to watch thanks to its great use of dark humor, the acting, the music and the beautiful landscape of Hawaii — assets that could make a film look great. However, the dramatic parts weren’t all that great thanks to the script, which comes across distracting and logic-defying regarding some of its elements. There were moments in the film that Hawaii felt like a bigger star than the rest of the characters. The Descendants gets sidetracked with a storyline about Matt inheriting a massive piece of island — the film’s title comes into play here — and having to decide to sell it to a buyer before his ownership expires.

The supporting cast is actually great. Shailene Woodley had a star-making performance in this film and played the part of the older, complicated daughter well, displaying emotional range with ease. Robert Forster was great as the asshole father-in-law. Nick Krause provided good comic relief and evolved nicely from generic jackass to a reasonable guy despite Sid ending up being a part of Matt’s storyline for logic-defying reasons. Judy Greer, who plays the wife of the man (Lillard) who slept with Matt’s wife, was a delight to watch despite her few minutes of screentime.

But what about George Clooney? He was good, but not great enough to deserve winning an Academy Award for Best Leading Actor. Casting Clooney as Matt King ended up being a problem. I thought Clooney wasn’t convincing at making Matt sympathetic. Most of Matt’s feelings are internal and Clooney doesn’t pull it off very well when compared to Brad Pitt in Moneyball. During the film, Woodley and Greer showed better emotional range than Clooney, who only managed to make me feel bad for him near the end of the film.

In the end, The Descendants is just alright to watch at least once. Maybe you’ll enjoy it more than I did, it has some great stuff here and there. But I think it could have fared better if someone like Paul Giamatti, who previously worked with Payne on Sideways, played the Matt King role instead of Clooney.

Rating: ★★★¼☆ 

Rodrigo

YAM Magazine contributor, has a B. Sc. degree in Science/Pharmacy and is a very lazy person.

10 Responses

  1. amy says:

    I liked the daughters and Judy Greer in it, but I think it’s really funny that you compare his performance to Brad, since he’s the other one people aren’t sure of – everyone thinks he should’ve been nominated for Tree of Life instead.

    I think one of the problems was that I kept thinking of Matt as George Clooney. Oh, look – he’s disconnected from his daughters…. but he’s loaded and he’s George Clooney! Who would not get along with him? LOL

    • Rodrigo says:

      @amy, I compare them since both had to display emotions internally. I know you didn’t like Moneyball, but Brad was far superior than Clooney on that aspect.

      I do agree with you on “Matt = Clooney”. It makes it hard to feel bad for the main character despite all the stuff he goes through.

      I would have felt more apathy for Descendants if it wasn’t for Matt’s wife reminding me of my life for a moment.

  2. Juan Barquin says:

    We have vehehehehehehery different views on The Descendants apparently. It’s one big mess of emotions that wanted to push through, but instead overlapped each other in the worst of ways. I adore Jim Rash as an actor (Community!!!), but I’m not sure if I care for him much as a writer honestly because this was just an overall bad screenplay. I agree that the music and the scenery is gorgeous and it’s shot nicely. The dark humour, however, was just not done well AT ALL. Sid, whose name I can’t even remember because I just refer to him as the “obnoxious pointless guy,” was just that – obnoxious and pointless.

    Clooney’s performance though – pretty damn fantastic imo. Much better than Pitt’s “let me smile every few seconds” performance from start to finish in that sentimental wreck that everyone is in love with.

    • Rodrigo says:

      @Juan Barquin, The screenplay wasn’t good, yes. I can see your point with Sid, but I didn’t felt that annoyed with the character by the end of the film.

      And Clooney being pretty damn fantastic? Lol, it felt like Clooney being Clooney rather than Clooney being a character. Sure we could argue about Clooney and Pitt, but it would be pointless since Jean Dujardin will win Best Actor regardless.

  3. Castor says:

    I liked The Descendants but certainly I think all the hype and acclaims it’s getting is a bit surprising and undue. The performances are for the most part very, most particularly Woodley and Clooney but overall, it almost feels too one-dimensional. I would have liked to see more dry humor, (Clooney does that so well so the lack of it in the film was disappointing)

    • Rodrigo says:

      @Castor, I think casting Clooney was a mistake here. People like Paul Giamatti, Steve Buscemi and others could have made Matt more sympathetic. In theory, you can relate to Matt’s problems, but in the big screen you’re seeing “George Clooney” instead of Matt King.

      If Descendants had to get an acting nomination, it should have been Woodley. Girl was pretty great and outshined Clooney easily.

  4. Dan says:

    I thought it was a wonderful film but then again Alexander Payne has never disappointed me. Like all his films they get better with each watch. The Descendants gets better just thinking about it. I personally enjoyed seeing Clooney in the role, I thought he did a terrific job.

    • Rodrigo says:

      @Dan, I like Payne’s stuff for the most part. With Descendants, I found it pretty hard to separate Matt King from George Clooney. Maybe I could give Descendants a second watch later on when it airs on cable.

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