Alexander Payne has quite a distinct directorial and writing style. His characters feel real, his films look earthly and his dialogue is touching and humorous. The Descendants ticks all those boxes nicely and as long as you’re not dead inside (or in a coma – eh? Eh?) it should evoke some sort of emotional response.
Matt King (George Clooney, not as miscast as I had at first thought) is a wealthy Hawaiin lawyer who, along with his massive collection of cousins, owns some highly-valued land. When his wife is injured in a boating accident, she falls into a coma and he must hang out with his daughters more. That’s the basic setup and gives you an idea of the sort of plots and character dynamics you can expect.
What I like about The Descendants (and Payne’s films in general) is that it can straddle the line between arty and pretentious and stay on the right side of bearable. The Descendants might tick off a number of items on the angsty arthouse checklist (middle age identity crisis, soft guitar soundtrack, idiotic characters saying strangely insightful things, children saying unexpectedly adult things), but not once is the line crossed. The Descendants has quirky indie sensibilities, but its setting, its characters, its plot are all grounded in familiarity. These people feel real, their emotions feel genuine and their burdens are relatable. And it’s funny.
And ya, Clooney is great in it.
The Descendants is a really beautiful little film with strong performances all round and a human core. It’s not a big film, it doesn’t tackle big themes, but feels small and personal and heartfelt. I even welled up a little bit, but only because… Stop laughing. Shut up! So’s your face!
But yes, I will admit it certainly helped my enjoyment of the film that I saw it against this backdrop:
FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Other Things to note:
Matthew Lillard looks old
Hawaii doesn’t look that nice
Give George an Oscar already