"The Descendants" (2011)

The Descendants (2011)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Running time: 115 minutes

Now Showing this week was originally going to be Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, as I saw that within the last week and I knew it was a film that others were interested in seeing so I would therefore have a keen reader base. Heck, I even had such witty criticisms all ready and prepared for it; like how it had more cheese than pre-dinner nibbles and drinks; but the main talking point that I was engaged in with those I saw War Horse with was how “touching” the film was. And I was going to ramble on in my review of the film about how I’m probably heartless and just couldn’t be “touched” by the exploits of this horse and his slightly annoying boy master, and that the horse was portrayed as to have intelligence beyond that which is capable of a horse. But then I was inspired by another film I saw this week that touched me in a way that War Horse just couldn’t.

Actually Now Showing this week is The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne. Matt King (George Clooney) is a lawyer living in Hawaii who is just days away from sealing a deal to sell his family’s inherited land for a very large sum of money. Matt is very wealthy already, but this land deal will make his relatives very well off as well. However, Matt’s wife Elizabeth has recently gone in to a coma after having a boating accident and she is not going to wake up. As by her living will, they must take her off life support and let her die within the next few days. But when Matt brings together his family (his ten year old daughter and his estranged seventeen year old daughter), his older daughter informs him that Elizabeth had been having an affair in the lead up to her accident. Matt is now confronted with saddness for losing his wife and rage for her betrayal.

On paper, I suppose this film doesn’t sound like much. I know that because that is how I felt about it when it was pitched to me in the trailer. But upon seeing the film I was over come by how touching (there’s that word again!) this story was. I recently lost my grandmother, and this film brought out emotions within me about her. All the characters in the film are so confronted by having to say goodbye to Elizabeth, and I was sitting there wishing I had known I had to say goodbye to my nan. I understand that that emotional connection is really specific to me personally, but I believe that there is something in this film for anyone to connect with. Whether it be the passing of a loved one, the betrayal of infidelity or even pondering what you would do if you could confront the person whom stole your lover’s heart.

All of the characters just felt so genuine and, especially George Clooney, they didn’t feel like characters they actually felt like people. And that isn’t just because the acting is top notch, the director clearly knows how to remove that sense of melodrama that always emerges from a “face it, she’s never coming out of that coma!” plot line. On top of that, the script is brilliant! The dialogue was witty and beautifully written and Clooney’s narration was performed wonderfully. The narration was actually a highlight for me, with some of the best dialogue I have heard in a while. All the characters had such interesting perspectives on their existances that were a joy to explore.

And finally, the setting of this film I think was perfect. I was initially apprehensive about the setting when I was hearing about the film as it seemed to me that it was using it as a selling point. “So, it’s a normal character drama about a struggling family. But in Hawaii!” But that’s not what the film is like. The choice to set the story in Hawaii I believe was very clever as Hawaii looks so beautiful and yet such sad events are taking place. I find the ocean and beach going communities to be so beautiful and happy, but to experience these events along with the characters in those communities was such a wonderful contrast. I also enjoyed recognising some of the locations from Lost!

The Descendants certainly isn’t the best movie I have ever seen. It is however very high on my list of films I like as it was so touching and powerful and entertaining. I think it will be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and personally, I would be very satisfied if it won. It does deserve it. See you next time!

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