“The Descendants” is a beautiful movie.
It’s a shoo-in for Academy Award nominations in several categories, including Best Director and Best Picture. If there’s any justice, Shailene Woodley gets a nod for her incredible work here, and there may even be a nom in George Clooney’s future for it.
It’s laugh out loud funny at several points, touching in numerous ways, occasionally thought-provoking, and I’m not gonna lie, there were a couple of moments when I teared up a bit. It’s a heart warming movie, and genuinely funny.
It’s one of the best films I’ve seen this year with ease.
“The Descendants” is the latest major release from director Alexander Payne, who has brought us “Election”, “About Schmidt”, and “Sideways”, each of which are highly recommendable. The man is developing quite a résumé.
It’s the story of Matt King and his family, and how they cope with the result of a tragic boating accident.
Matt King (George Clooney) is the trustee of a large parcel of undeveloped Hawaiian land… he and his cousins are the descendants of Hawaiian royalty, and they’ve collectively inherited a large number of acres of Hawaiian coastline property. The trust that the land is held in is set to dissolve in seven years, so the cousins, with Matt as trustee, have to figure out how to sell and who to sell to. A transaction which will make them all rich.
Tragically, however, Matt’s wife is in a speed boating accident, and winds up in a coma. He’s forced into taking care of his ten-year old daughter by himself. She’s acting out, as children in such a situation might, and Matt is having difficulty dealing with it. It’s not long before the doctors tell him there’s nothing more they can do for his wife… and Matt knows he also needs to bring his oldest daughter (Shailene Woodley) home from boarding school, in order to be with her family in her mom’s final days. When she comes home, not only does she present Matt with another set of parenting challenges, she also drops a bombshell on him.
His wife, her mother, was having an affair.
Dealing with his daughters, having to say goodbye to his wife, having to deal with the fact that she was unfaithful, and all the while having to negotiate a half a billion dollar real estate deal, put a huge amount of emotional strain on Matt. How he and his family cope makes for a wonderful movie that’s fun, funny, sad, touching, and ultimately, extraordinary.
Payne does a masterful job of orchestrating the mood. Hitting the comedy beats when you wouldn’t expect them (to great effect), and then playing your heartstrings like a virtuoso. Set in suburban Hawaii, the location of this film felt unique to me. It certainly felt like no neighborhood I had visited before. And of course the film occasionally showcases the natural beauty of the islands. Between the gorgeous setting and the beautiful Hawaiian music playing throughout, there’s an excellent juxtaposition between the beauty of the world and the sorrows of life. Which isn’t to say that the film focuses on the sadness. It’s a wonderful portrait of all the facets of life… sorrow, joy, love, loss, friendship, kinship, it’s a very emotionally rich film.
This movie is a mortal lock for a Best Picture nomination, a safe bet for a Best Director nomination for Payne, and even money on noms for Woodley, Forster and Clooney. I would love to see Woodley get nominated for this, she was phenomenal. A terrific, terrific performance. Robert Forster (as the grieving father in law) is the very definition of “Best Supporting Actor”. He had very little screen time, yet he made an unforgettable contribution to the film. I’m a bit torn on Clooney. There were times when I wished he had a little more capabilities in the grieving scenes, but in the comedic areas, he’s phenomenal, so it’s a bit of a trade-off. Not that he’s not excellent, not that he’s not excellent… not that he’s not EXCELLENT. But I just don’t know if this will be Oscar worthy or not. Not my call.
Should this movie take home a statue in any category, I’ll be very very happy for it. It’s completely worthy. I was fortunate to catch it at a free screening in my area held by Fox Searchlight. As everyone let out, there was a Fox rep polling people for their reactions. I made my way over to him, made eye contact, and told him with all the seriousness that I could muster… “That was phenomenal.”
I’ll tell you all the same.