Saturday, January 07, 2012

"The Descendants" (2011) - Movie Review

Alexander Payne’s films always have a male lead with peculiar characteristics yet so normal. On the outset they are average Joe but as any average Joe, they have a wife, kids, concerns and issues. He dealt it with a unique dark comedy in “Election”, kicked it off smoothing down Jack Nicholson in a killer role in “About Schmidt” and gave Paul Giamatti a character to ruminate in “Sideways”. Here it is George Clooney and as his male lead in previous films, we come about to sympathize, empathize and mainly respect him. This should have been my first 2012 film to come back to my films in great fashion.

The film happens in Hawaii and that forms a background of its own. Every one wears beach shirts, appears to be happy most of the times given the depressing scenario Clooney’s Matt King is in and are always greeted by wonderful nature. The most dashing celebrity in Hollywood withers down to a regular personality. No fancy one liners or the oozing confidence of Daniel Ocean. Not even the tired yet stellar presence of Michael Clayton. If I ran into Matt King, I would think that he is a regular working guy whom I can hang out and have mundane discussion about weather and what not. I think that is the specialty of Clooney who makes most of the people think that he cannot do different roles but does these wide varieties of characterizations.

The film shows the tedious world of Matt King crumbling around him. Matt’s wife is in coma and as the film starts he is hoping for a second chance in the dying marriage he sensed before his wife got into a motorboat accident. He has been the traditional dad of working and having formality discussion with his daughters. His ten year old daughter is Scottie (Amara Miller) dealing this circumstance and ordeal of seeing her mother in the hospital and Matt does not know how to handle it. He has no clue on how to behave, react and operate around Scottie. He and his wife have good friends who help them out until he finds out that his wife’s coma is permanent and as per her wish, she wanted to be taken off life support. This gets worse and worse and he suffocates inside of the ever devastating situation.

Matt has another daughter who has cut ties with her mother and is being brought back. This is Alex played by a very confident Shailene Woodley. She is the eldest and the teenager which is a wandering situation for any dad. She breaks out the reason for her fight with her mother that turns Matt’s world upside down one more time. There seems to be no end for his sadness. If this is all looming on him, his ancestors’ land need to be sold because of the rule of perpetuities that puts them to sell it. He is surrounded by these information and decisions to be made. In between he has to feel for what he has to feel.

Payne’s films lays out the saddest of the situations in to something digestable. In the sense that the tragedy keeps getting deeper and deeper and we still smile, laugh and cry amongst those. May be because he makes it real as the life itself wherein misery does not stop the regular routines of life. You continue all those things with a crappy mindset but you continue for sure. Here the continuation is a venture of finding the man who has destroyed Matt in several manner but mainly emotional. Soon enough Matt, Scottie, Alex along with Alex’s friend Sid (Nick Krause) are traveling around to find some sense and answers into this terrible scenario.

Oh what wonderful characters this film entails. Apart from the main players, the fascinating ones are Sid and Matt’s father-in-law played by Robert Forster. Sid is the teenager boy you would not want around your daughter on the first go. Then he becomes this lovely personality whom not alone Matt comes to like but also respect. Robert Forster’s father is a prick but also a grieving father. Look at how insensitive he is around Matt and how sensitive he becomes around his comatose daughter. And how Matt’s wife Elizabeth played by Patricia Hastie lays down there and Payne paints this picture of her character through different people and form a opinion of ourselves.

George Clooney plays Matt King not as a chump but as a meaningful man. He is not awkward but clueless. He does not do stupid things to evoke cinematic comedy but behaves and reacts to empathize on his agony and laugh along the way. He makes it simpler on the screen and projects frustrating emotions with great ease. His character is constantly in confused emotions filled with anger, sadness and betrayal. Amongst these he forms a bond with his kids and in a way to his ancestors. “The Descendants” is one of the best films of 2011.


Kennings said...

Nice review! I really thought that this was a great film. George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller were simply a pure delight to watch as they provided an interesting critique of the modern American family. The Hawaiian setting was great as well. Check out mine if you get the chance.

Ashok said...

Thanks Kennings! I really did enjoy "The Descendants"and I read your synopsis as well. Very well written. Would like to see more of it though! Keep reading and I welcome feedback :-)

Kennings said...

Thanks! I'm now following your site so I can keep up with all your reviews. They're quite good.

Ashok said...

Thanks again Kennings. Appreciate your comments. Please keep reading and do share your opinions. I will check on your blog as well.