A mix of comedy and drama that only Alexander Payne could deliver.
George Clooney plays Matt King, a man who has spent the last several years of his life working all the time that he forgot to pay attention to those in his life who matter the most. After a serious boating incident that leaves his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) in a coma, Matt is forced to take care of his two daughters Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) whom he knows very little about. What happens next is a storyline so real yet so humorous that you are laughing one moment and crying the next. A truly amazing Alexander Payne film ensues…
First off, I have to say I absolutely adore Alexander Payne as a filmmaker. He creates some amazing films that always mix the perfect amount of drama and comedy. The Descendants is arguable his best film to date and that is kind of hard for me to admit since I really love Sideways, but after seeing this film and how much it stuck with me after the initial screening, I must conclude that this is his new masterpiece. The reason why The Descendants is so good of a film is because it is very realistic and edgy. There are so many elements this film touches upon including midlife crisis, money, family, divorce, affairs, and just understanding how life works in general. It is something that I feel most people can relate to on some level or another but the main focus of family really hits home.
George Clooney in the film finds out that his wife, who is in a coma, has had an affair. How does he find this out? His daughter tells him it because he was too busy to realize anything wrong was happening in his life. This element alone is what makes this such a good film because it touches on a subject that really has not been addressed in films. Here we have a mother who is dying because of an accident, but instead of feeling sad, we are questioning her because she has cheated on her husband. That is a powerful story to tell…dealing with grief of a family member on one hand but then finding out that your wife slept with someone while she is in a coma is another thing. This is only one centralize plot point that the film focuses on.
There are so many scenes in The Descendants where you just burst out laughing at one moment, but then want to burst into tears the next. The scene where Clooney walks into the hospital room and starts screaming at his wife in a coma is so incredibly powerful and full of emotion and rage. Then just moments later, his daughter does the same thing and it becomes more of a comedic moment. Payne is an absolute brilliant storyteller when it comes to film. He knows how to set up the perfect scene and get the most out of the story. He takes on topics about life that are realistic yet dark. No one wants to think that their dying wife is a bad person, yet miraculously Payne takes on the project and makes us hate the character at first, but then makes us feel sorry for them and understand why it happened. Its not everyday that a film can have that much of an affect on its audience.
Outside of Payne really knowing how to direct and shape the story, the performances here is what really makes this film shine. When you watch Clooney in this movie, you see a side of him that I have yet to see of him. He is kind of an asshole in the beginning yet as the movie goes on you see how this man has forgotten about his family and his priorities. His two daughters played by Amara Miller and Shailene Woodley are just superb as Clooney. They all work with the flow and tone of film adding something to the story. While Shailene at first seems to just be playing the rebellious teen, as the film continues you see that she has more depth to her than the typical teenage angst. The same goes for Amara who just blew me away here as well. All three of them deserve some sort of recognition for their performances.
Another element that I want to really point out about the film is the dialogue and how the film accurately depicts how teenagers talk to their parents. The dialogue is usually witty and full of life, which is typical for a Payne film, but here its dead on in every scene. As far as the teenager to parent vibe, I think this film portrays one of the more realistic views on that topic. There is a scene where Clooney is sitting down on a couch with his two daughters and he says “I don’t get how you kids talk around me, its like you don’t have any respect for me as a parent.” That scene and line hits how majority of teenagers today view their parents.
In 2011, I have seen about 150 movies which for the most part have been a pretty solid, but The Descendants is definitely one of my top 10 of the year. The story, the acting, and the direction are top notch and Oscar worthy. The film itself deals with a lot of difficult and dark subjects, but does it with such ease and perfection. The comedic and dramatic elements of the film add to the film because it allows the audience to connect with the characters and the challenges they are facing, but also to have a laugh here and there to lighten up the mood. This is without a doubt Alexander Payne’s best film to date and if you are a fan of Payne, Clooney or just movies that touch upon issues about real life than move this one up to the top of your list because The Descendants is definitely a must see!
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for The Descendants is a solid 9 out of 10.