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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Descendents Film Review - George Clooney Shailene Woodley

Matt (George Clooney) lives in Hawaii with his wife and two daughters. He is rich and is deciding a real estate deal that could earn him and the rest of his family millions of dollars. It all sounds like paradise but this guy is having a rough time. His wife lies in a coma dying after a boating accident. His daughters don’t respect him and his big real estate deal is causes him public vilification. Oh yeah, while Matt’s wife lies in a coma, his eldest daughter (Shailene Woodley) tells him that his wife was having an affair with another man.

 Alexander Payne directed and wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Much like at least two of Payne's other films, “About Schmidt” and “Sideways” , “The Descendents” features characters whose lives are on a house of cards. The characters feel as though they possess or possessed something special but it turns out they realize they are as frail as everyone else. Payne’s characters have all the flaws, unrealized hopes, egos, insecurities, etc as the audiences watching them. Maybe this is why I, and so many others, connect so well with his films.

 Matt takes his daughters and a friend of his eldest, Sid (Nick Krause, a wonderfully played, subtly complex stoner) on a Hawaiian journey. They search for his wife’s lover (refreshingly, not for the deviant reasons you may suspect), notify family about his wife's condition, and work on real estate deal. 

The Descendants does not have the zany, edgier scenes that About Schmidt and Sideways have. It is a relatively leisurely paced movie which somehow seems to fit the Hawaiian setting. As Matt wanders the islands in his Hawaiian shirt and flip flops, take note of the scenery. You see this state in two subtly contrasting ways. On one hand it is a tropical vacation paradise, on the other, there are people who live there year round and for them, it is no vacation. 

They worry about local issues, they need to go to work every day, their children need care, the drive in congested traffic and they face family pressures. In The Descendants, the gorgeous back drop of Hawaii is just something that the residents just wade their way through without giving it much thought.  

Clooney does a great job of convincing me that Matt really is struggling to figure out all of these troubling pressures all on his own. Matt is not superman and is not at all typical-Clooney debonair. He comes across as both naturally flawed and sympathetic.  

Shailene Woodley does a fine job as well. She plays Matt’s eldest daughter, Alex. She resents her family and has a history of substance abuse. As a tribute to her fine acting and Payne’s fine directing her performance never goes over the top. There are no outrageous drug induced scenes, rants, or screaming matches. Alex’s flaws and good points are played out efficiently and believably.

 I enjoyed The Descendants. I still liked the movie Sideways better but Payne's latest is still a heck of a film.  Check it out.

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