Thursday, November 24, 2011
The Descendants - Movie Review
I'm going to tip my hand right now, as I'm not going to talk about The Descendants as much as I could. My normal 'spoiler rules' have fully kicked into effect, which means I really liked the the movie. I want to talk about it more, but the rules dictate that I can't spoil it.
The basic premise is this: Matt King (George Clooney) is some kind of lawyer that's trusted to handle a large, legacy land claim that his family is responsible for in Hawaii. This claim has been passed down from his great, great Grandfather (I think it was his great, great Grandfather, anyway). That's where 'The Descendants' comes from.
In the opening moments, it's also explained that King's wife had a boating accident and is now on life support. As a result, he's forced to reconnect with his two daughters and take care of them. Fortunately, he's not a terrible father. It's just that he hasn't always been 100% involved. The trailer shows you that his oldest daughter is kind of a delinquent, but at the same time was aware of the fact that King's wife was cheating on him. King was not aware of that, and now has to deal with that as well.
That's the premise and that's all I'm going to say about the plot. From this point, you just watch it all play out. Fortunately, this is one of the funniest, most thoughtful and emotionally realistic films I've seen in a long time. I laughed out loud consistently through The Descendants. This movie kind of goes through the entire emotional scale. There were times I was angry and other times I was almost brought to tears. Non cyborgs (i.e. normal people) will likely get an even more emotional response from this movie. I'm not saying that's a bad thing though.
Earlier in the week, I heard some hype about Shailene Woodley's performance as Clooney's older daughter, and I was ready to dismiss it as hype. After seeing The Descendants, I'm ready to tell you that the hype is real! I loved her in this movie. I didn't like her in the fist few minutes, but that's intentional. Once you get past that, she's just great! I'd tell you more, but again, no spoilers!
I can only talk about the performances you see in the trailer, as there are a few people that pop up that you might be surprised by, but everyone is great. Robert Forster and Beau Bridges are fantastic! Clooney's youngest daughter, played by Amara Miller, is also an inspired casting. Normally, I'm annoyed by child actors, but she and Woodley are just amazing as far as I'm concerned. Miller has a scene in the movie that, again, nearly brought me to tears. Even the doofus boyfriend (Nick Krause) ended up being a great choice.
Do I even need to say that George Clooney was great in this? Well, he is! That's all I can say! He's great, fantastic etc. Clooney is the man, period! His acting and narration in the opening moments of this film instantly get you into the movie and get you to care about his character. For better or worse, you end up caring about everyone in The Descendants.
On a weird note, and someone might be able to help me with this, King's wife is played by Patricia Hastie and at an early point in the movie you see a picture of her that I swear I've seen before. Hastie's IMDB shows she's been on Lost, so I think that's where I've seen the picture. Any confirmation here would be helpful. I know I've seen that picture somewhere before and it's bugging the hell out of me.
Even the pacing of the film is great. There was never a point where I felt like they needed to speed up or just get on with it. In fact, there were times were I was almost upset when I knew it was coming towards a conclusion. I could have watched this for another 30 minutes. I was just that engaged and enjoying it that much.
Anyway, The Descendants is almost a perfect movie as far as I'm concerned. It has everything I could have expected. I even loved the music, and that's not always something I usually notice. The only time I notice the score is when it's either especially great or gets some kind of emotional response out of me. That happened here.
The scenery is beautiful as well, but it's in Hawaii. Can Hawaii be ugly? Not from what I've seen. You are treated to a few shots during the movie that even as a viewer, you might find yourself saying, "Hey, take a picture!"
This is Alexander Payne's most recent feature since Sideways and I think I like The Descendants more than that. What am I saying? I like The Descendants WAY more than Sideways (and I like Sideways). I hope Payne isn't so selective in the future with his projects.
I'll just come right out and say it, The Descendants is one of the best films of the year! I'm going to go so far as to go ahead and put it in my top five favorite films of the year. There are three movies I've seen this year that have been able to keep a smile on my face throughout the movie. They are Midnight in Paris, The Guard and now The Descendants
This is one of those movies that if you don't like it, then F-you! I give The Descendants my highest recommendation! See it local, in an art-house (where I saw it), or wherever you can see it. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this heavily mentioned at Oscar time.
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