on December 15, 2012
It is pretty difficult to describe what kind of a film Alexander Payne's new film "The Descendants" is. Some will think it is a comedy drama about messy nature of life. Others may feel the film is rather sad, dealing with life's most devastating moment. Perhaps both views are right.
The story itself is simple. George Clooney plays Matt King, a successful Hawaiian lawyer and sole trustee of pristine land on Kauai Island. His wife Elizabeth has been in coma since the boating accident a few weeks ago. Having been too busy, he doesn't know how to talk to his two daughters, precocious 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and rebellious 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley). In his voiceover Matt pleads with his wife to wake up.
Ironically it is Matt who has to "wake up." He learns that his comatose wife had been "seeing" someone. With his wife's health deteriorating, Matt sets out to seek the truths about that guy, with his daughters and Alex's slacker friend Sid (Nick Krause) only to find unexpected consequences. And Matt has to make a grave decision about a tract of land in less than a week.
With the beautifully shot on-location photography in Hawaii, "The Descendants" sometimes looks like a visual travelogue, but the beautiful images sometime hide uncomfortable surprises and facts Matt didn't want to know. The film is part Matt's spiritual journey that is, skillfully told by the director, is amusing and touching at the same time without relying on conventional settings. It may not be all that uplifting, but overall optimistic.
The film is in a sense a character study of Matt (played superbly by George Clooney), but other characters are equally intriguing. While Alex tends to conceal what she really feels (like her father), her sister Scottie takes things as they seem and behaves accordingly. Looking at Matt and his daughters reminds us what we understand least is often someone very close to you.
To me, the strength of "The Descendants" lies in these characters whose emotions seem often unaccountable (even to those who possess them), but still genuine and realistic nonetheless. Alexander Payne explores how our life could be messy and painful - and also amazing - in his own unique style.
on March 18, 2012
There is 90 seconds of film where George Clooney is not on the screen. But don't worry, he narrates for us so we don't forget he is in the film. His wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) has a boating accident we don't get to see because Clooney wasn't there. She is in a coma and is going to die. Clooney has been so involved with his job (he has a big deal in the works) that he has alienated himself from his family. Now he is attempting to reconnect with his two daughters, the older of which has harsh feelings for her mother.
The story develops to a point where Elizabeth's coma becomes almost secondary. Clooney's deal involves all of his cousins and a realtor Clooney would rather not deal with for personal reasons. In order to help her cope, the older daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) has a boyfriend (Nick Krause) who hangs out with her during this interim.
The movie is a drama, but the dysfunctional family provides for light humor and some dark humor to keep the film from getting too heavy. Good acting. Well written and directed. Film is really great if you like the color blue: blue skies, blue water, blue Hawaiian shirts...and Clooney.
F-bomb, no sex or nudity. 4 1/2 stars.
on July 13, 2015
A better made, acted and written film with like intensity I have not seen this year. I hope not to see it’s like anytime soon. Stupid humans-this is an incredible film which deals with the tragic death of a loved one, not so fun. Throw in a drug troubled teen ager, adultery by a family man, cheating spouse and a background of titanic greed vs. our better instincts and there we are. If grand literature can successfully come to the silver screen to mangle our emotions, this is the very one to do it. I became disturbed, appalled, sickened and at last brought to pity and a kind of peace through endurance.
The story revolves around an extended family, the fictitious Kings. They are loosely-I hope very loosely-modeled on the real life Robinson family. The Kings, like the Robinsons, own a massive chunk of the Island of Kauai, the Hawaiian Garden Isle. An old trust which has preserved the land in a pristine state will expire in seven years. The family must find something to do with the land. Some want to sell out for $300 million, the others to another bidder for a cool half billion. Nice choice to have.
The real story is that of the familial inner action. We never hear Mrs. King speak. As the movie opens, she is rendered comatose in a boating accident. She surely will die, and soon. Matt King (George Clooney in an Oscar nominated role-which he rightly deserves to win. We knew he could act but this role is clear off the charts) must deal with two daughters, one a seventeen year old drug damaged wild child (Shailene Woodley, beautiful, profane and shattered by life) and the other a bewildered middle schooler.
Woodley in particular is quite good. She is only 20 but has some 33 TV or film roles to her credit. Also putting in admirable work are Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer as the philandering Brian Speer and his “I never saw it coming” wife.
Great accolades must be reserved for Alexander Payne. He directed this wonderful, hard to take movie, as he did About Schmidt and Sideways. He also wrote the script as he also did for the above mentioned along with I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. He also produced the film. He must take the lion’s share of credit. He will take home the Oscar for Best Picture (as producer) and Best Director, should the Motion Picture Academy so vote. I would be happy if he wins both, and happy with Clooney for best actor. This is a very rare five saw blade movie but it is rated R because it deals with the most intense of human emotions in a brilliantly realistic way. I left drained.
The film runs a typical one hour and 55 minutes. I love Hawaii and the film I loved seeing it filmed so vividly and well. Tiny things that I noticed, like the correct style of Aloha shirt to wear to a business meeting, like the proper high school for prominent Hawaiian families (fabled Punahou, the high school of one Berry Obama) make the movie even better. Both of these items were simply part of the background, a background developed by very careful movie making.
As producer, Payne will be happy about the $228 and counting that has crossed the ticket counter so far. This is a classic, maybe even perfect, film.
The Descendants, a movie starring George Clooney, is the best film I've seen all year. It is adult-themed, realistic and poignant. The dialogue seems real, the acting is superb and the photography of Hawaii is spellbindingly beautiful. The story is about Matt King, descended from King Kamehameha many generations back. He and his family have inherited quite a bit of land for which Matt is the executor and they are in the process of selling it. The proceeds will go to Matt and his cousins. Despite having wealth, Matt has lived frugally, to the point where one might question his motives. His wife, Elizabeth, has just been severely injured in a boating accident and is comatose. It is unlikely that she ever will wake up and her living will is very explicit that she wants her life support pulled.
Matt has two daughters, Scottie and Alex. Alex is 17 and a handful. As the film opens, she is in a private school that may also be a rehab facility. Scottie, about 10, is acting out at school and at home since her mother's injury. Matt is clueless about how to raise his two daughters alone and has been very distant from his family spending most of his time working at his law practice. The crisis with Elizabeth is forcing him to be a primary parent and the film is excellent in showing Matt's development as a father.
Matt goes to the big island to pull Alex from school and bring her home. She is furious at her mother, having found out recently that she was having an affair. She tells her father and the two become co-conspirators in finding Joanie's lover and confronting him. Matt is flabbergasted about the affair. The marriage has not been going well but he had no suspicions that his wife loved another man.
George Clooney is excellent in his part as are the two girls. The movie poignantly shows how the family starts pulling together into a semblance of a loving unit. The dialogue is fresh and real, not for the faint of heart or for those who mind cursing. I have not read the book so I can't compare the two but on its own merits, this film is a real winner.
on February 8, 2013
This is a great film; definitely one of the ten best of 2011, and I would want to see it regardless of who was in the lead role. But George Clooney's powerful performance takes this movie to a level it would not have achieved w/out him, It is his best film role ever...my opinion of course...and his Golden Globe award and Oscar nomination were well deserved. Clooney is Matt King, a Hawaiian attorney and sole trustee of a family trust that includes some 25K acres of prime Hawaiian land. He is trying to reconnect with his two daughters after his wife is involved in a tragic boating accident. She is not killed in the accident; in fact she is in a coma for most of the film....which is important to the plotline. He learns through his oldest daughter, Alex, that his wife, Elizabeth, was having an affair before her accident. He is also under pressure from the rest of the family to sell the land before the trust expires. So, Matt has a lot on his plate...a multitude of problems that would overwhelm most men. Not only does Clooney do a masterful job in portraying Matt, the young actress, Shailene Woodley, is perfectly cast as the 17 year old Alex. The support cast is also superb. The score consists of Hawaiian music by different artists and perfectly sets the mood; and Alexander Payne masterfully puts it all together behind the camera.
on June 20, 2016
I have a strange allergy to anything having to do with George Clooney but with the Oscar buzz I was curious.
I loved it. I loved the process the Clooney character goes through as he learns a lot more about his wife than he wanted to know. I loved some very prickly and honest monologues he delivers at her bedside. And his relationships with his kids. (Teach your parents well...) It's interesting to see the lights in his internal life come on (in relationship to almost everything going on in his life) at the same time his wife's lights are going out.
He was a victim of cliche that you can never truly know someone. He learns his wife's secret and that starts his journey of discovery and in the end he learns about himself.
The movie has warmth and sees it's characters through a very human lens.
No one gets life, love or relationships right. All you can do is calibrate your compass and keep trying.
Alexander Payne knows how to make a character-driven film. In his previous movies "Election" and "Sideways," the good guys are inherently flawed and the villains have many virtues, but people constantly get themselves into trouble by making those little decisions that have major, unforeseen consequences.
"Everything just happens." The line heard in Payne's latest film, "The Descendants," neatly sums up the writer-director's philosophy. Much happens to Matt King (George Clooney) in this movie, set entirely in Hawaii, where King's life is teetering on the edge of picturesque seaside cliffs. His thrill-seeking wife lies in a coma following a powerboat accident, and her chances of recovery are slim. The couple's 10-year-old daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), rages against the world, and King is so feckless a dad that he turns to his 17-year-old, Alex (Shailene Woodley), for help, even though he has already sent her to boarding school to wean her off alcohol, drugs and men. The other potential source of help, King's father-in-law (Robert Forster), blames him for the accident.
King's family brings another huge piece of baggage: a piece of Hawaii's soul. The King family are Haole descendants of King Kamehameha's family (Haole is Hawaiian for honkey) and King's cousins have each squandered their vast inheritances. King has preserved his share by living a comparably frugal life and, understandably, he is the sole trustee of the family's once-vast trust. The trust owns one major asset, an unspoiled 25,000-acre plot of paradise on Kauai that most of King's cousins want to sell to a developer. Such a sale would infuriate most of the state, but Cousin Hugh (Beau Bridges) makes it clear that a few hundred million soothes a wounded conscience quite nicely.
To top it off (as we saw in the movie's trailer), King learns that his wife has been cheating on him. And so it is we see King's point when he observes, "Paradise? Paradise can go . . ." (Well, you know.)
Ultimately, "The Descendants" is about King's quest for redemption: as a father, a husband, and a Hawaiian. In a lesser movie, he would move smoothly through the steps of healing and emerge triumphant with a big speech announcing his hard-won wisdom. "The Descendants" does not take any easy shortcuts. While King wants to connect with his daughters, he doesn't have a clue how to do it. He, naturally, is also consumed with tracking down his wife's lover (Matthew Lillard) and finds an unlikely ally in Alex; this is hardly the traditional bonding experience for a father and daughter. Clooney, a nominee for a best actor Oscar, is a perfect choice to play King. Looking a bit more haggard than his normal Danny Ocean self, Clooney is as vulnerable as we've ever seen him. We believe it when he turns to his daughter's stoner boyfriend (Nick Krause) for advice.
As usual in a Payne movie, all the performances are first-rate, and Shailene Woodley is particularly strong as the frustrated older daughter. Ultimately a comedy, "The Descendants" is a rich character study steeped in the romance of Hawaii. Gorgeously shot (I watched the high-definition Blu-ray) and scored with a charming Hawaiian guitar soundtrack, the movie stands proudly next to Payne's best work, and that's high praise.
A healthy dose of extras include deleted scenes and several small documentaries, including an exploration of the real-life "Descendants," an examination of the Hawaiian mystique, and a discussion with Clooney and Payne.
Review originally published on MyDVDInsider.com.
Based on the trailers, you would expect this film is mostly a comedy. After all, it takes place in Hawaii and it stars George Clooney who we see in the trailer running with a funny gate and determined but weird look on his face. Yes, this scene is in the movie but this isn't a comedy. It's about a death...and life.
Matt (Clooney) is a wealthy attorney but his real nest egg rests with some large acreage than he and a bevy of cousins have inherited from their families that have roots with a native Hawaiian princess. The land is pristine and undeveloped. Although jointly owned, Matt is the sole trustee therefore can decide on what happens with the land. A plan is in place to sell the land to developers which would provide each of the owners a huge fortune.
This really isn't the main story however, important as it is to the outcome. Matt's wife is in a non-reversible coma and on life support after a boating accident. She will soon die. They have 2 daughters, one 17 and another 11. He's never been overly involved in their upbringing as this was the mother's role. To complicate matters, Matt finds out that his wife had other outside interests besides boating.
Alexander Payne ("Sideways") doesn't make a lot of movies but they always resonate. This one is no exception. He and his co-writers have put together a strong drama that is never heavy-handed or depressing. This takes a deft hand at the helm and Payne provides it along with a stellar performance by Clooney and a cast of newcomers (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller as the daughters) and veterans (Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Robert Forster and Matthew Lillard).
Blu ray update: I still love the story and the way director Alexander Payne manages to get great performances from virtually every person on the set. From surfing legend Laird Hamilton to George Clooney in what must be considered the finest of his career. One thing the Blu ray allows you to do is study the actors in a closer more personal way as they inhabit their characters. Clooney's character Matt King runs the gamete of emotions as he tries to deal with multiple catastrophes including the loss of his wife.
The other standout performance is by Shailene Woodley as Matt's oldest daughter Alex. She goes from a wild partying 17 year old to a mature take charge older sister. The younger sister Scottie is played by Amara Miller and frankly I didn't pay much attention to her the first time I saw the film. I was so absorbed with everything else. But watch this young actress steal scenes and add a bit of needed humor at the appropriate moment.
Even small roles are played for all they're worth. Robert Forster is the dickish father-in-law of Matt. But Matt gives him an opportunity to grieve in his own way. Watch the tender scene in the hospital as Forster's character says goodbye to his daughter. Check out Judy Greer as the aggrieved spouse of her husband's infidelity. The husband played by Matthew Lillard is likewise remarkable. Far removed from Scooby-Doo. Beau Bridges has a couple brief scenes as Matt's cousin, but he takes full advantage. Finally, you have to give it up for Patricia Hastie in an unappreciated and probably agonizing role as the comatose Elizabeth. "The Descendants" is one of the finest films from 2011.
The Blu ray shows a perfectly presented video in 1080p. The colorful Hawaiian landscape shows up well with sharp focused detail. It has a very film-like quality which is appropriate. The aspect ratio is 2.40:1. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and while not spectacular it is not distracting either. This is a dialog centered film and it is clear and centered. The guitar and ukulele plays in many scenes and they sound great. Well done.
on January 7, 2013
This movie not only has great cast, but includes extra features we enjoyed seeing after the movie. The movie is based on a family with hardships and situations anyone could experience. Funny times and tear dripper times. A movie all should see when age appropriate. Glad we purchased it to see more than once and even again after we have had it a year.
THE DESCENDANTS (2011) is a psycho-drama that centers around one family. In addition to the family, the characters include a married couple (Mark and Kai) who are friends of the family, and a paramour (Brian Speer) and his wife (Julie). The family takes the form of George Clooney, his comatose wife who is eventually taken off life-support, and their two teenaged daughters. The older daughter is Shailene Woodley (a hottie) and the younger daughter is Amara Miller (a plump girl). Shailene has a charismatic boyfriend played by Nick Krause. The film trods the well-worn themes of grief and death, betrayal in marriage, and teen rebellion. The film integrates these themes together as an exceptionally unified whole, resulting in a unique work of art. The film also has the plot element of a wife who decides to have an affair because her husband spends too much time at work, and too little time with his family (but what family in the United States of America does not have this particular problem?). What is further unique about this film, is the 1950s-style Hawaiian music that serves as a divider between each theme. Many of the out-of-door scenes take place under overcast skies, where the landscape features plants found in Hawaii and mountain formations that are characteristic of Hawaii (for example, I noticed and admired the Waimanalo region of the Ko'olau Mountains).
OPENING MONOLOGUE. The film begins with Clooney's wife, enjoying a motorboat ride in the ocean with Waikiki in the background. She is grinning as the boat bounces up and down on the waves, but she says nothing. Then, Clooney recites, "My friends on the mainland think just because we live in Hawaii we're in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We're all sipping mai tais, shaking our hips, catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we're immune to life? How can they possibly think that our families are less screwed-up, our cancers less fatal, our heartaches less painful?" (That is a great monologue, in my opinion.)
OPENING SCENES. The first scene shows Clooney's wife in a long-term coma, due to her motorboat accident. At the time, the boat was being driven by a family friend named Troy. Clooney continues his monologue, and he reveals that he spends too much time at work, and sacrifices time with his family.
AMARA ACTS UP. The next scene provides character development for Amara, the 10-year old daughter, and reveal that the mother's coma is causing Amara to "act up." Amara's school complains that Amara had submitted a photo scrapbook showing various photos of her comatose mother. Amara defends her scrapbook, and insists that it is "art." An irate mother complains to Clooney that Amara had sent her daughter a text message reading, "WE ALL KNOW YOU GREW [bad word] OVER THE SUMMER." Shortly after that, Amara is shown tossing lawn furniture into the family swimming pool.
PRINCESS KE'ALOHE'ANI. Clooney resumes his monologue, and reveals that his great great grandmother was Princess Ke'alohe'ani, who was a descendent of King Kamahameha. Clooney reveals that he is the sole trustee of a large amount of land in Kauai, and that he is preparing to sell the land. A continuing issue in this movie is whether he should sell the land to a local developer, to a developer on the mainland, or to donate it as a park thereby preventing any commercial development (Don't worry, I do not reveal the fate of this land).
DEALING WITH GRIEF. At 14 minutes into the film, we see a married couple (Mark and Kai) visiting the comatose wife. Kai is putting make-up on the comatose wife. At 16 minutes, Troy says to Clooney, "I've been praying for her every day . . . last week I talked to her and she moved her hand and I was encouraged." Clooney perceives that Troy is full of bull-bleep and he is annoyed, and snaps, "That's enough!" (It was not clear to me if Troy was expressing his grief, or if Troy was hoping to receive a greater portion of the sales money from the inherited property on Kauai.)
SHAILENE ACTS UP. Shailene, who is a hot 17-year old, is shown at 19 minutes into the movie, at her private high school on the Big Island. Clooney visits her, in an effort to solidify his fraying family. Clooney's narrative reveals that Shailene is taking drugs and going out with older guys. In the next scene, taking place at their home on Oahu, Shailene displays her attitude in a dialogue with Clooney: "I have gotten my act together, I was just drinking . . . what if I got drunk on the one night you stopped by, so [bad word] you." Shailene continues, and complains to her father (George Clooney) about his perpetual absence from his family. Shailene says, "Maybe if you spent more time with her [Amara] she wouldn't act like a complete [unintelligible]."
HANKY-PANKY. At 25 minutes into the film, Clooney reveals to Shailene that the mother will be taken off life support. This dialogue takes place in the back yard, and Shailene is in the pool. Shailene immediately submerges herself, and we see that her face is contorted with pain, because of the bad news. Then she surfaces, and Clooney asks her to assist him in informing various friends and relatives about the plan to take the mother off life support. But Shailene does not want to cooperate and she scoffs at the idea. At first, the viewer will perceive Shailene as displaying attitude, but the viewer will be treated to a little surprise. Shailene exclaims, "You really don't have a clue, do you. Dad, dad . . . mom was cheating on you. When I was home at Christmas, I caught her with a guy . . . you didn't even suspect, right? You were so busy . . . he had his hand on her ass, it was so gross . . . a few days later I knew what she was doing, like I'm [bad word] blind and then she got like super mad and yelled and denied it . . . I decided I didn't want anything more to do with her."
TURNING POINT IN THE STORY. After Shailene's revelation, Clooney asks, "Who is he?" This is a turning point in the story, because after this point, Clooney plays detective and seeks out the paramour's identity (it is Brian Speer, a real estate developer). At 30 minutes into the movie, Clooney runs down his street to a neighbor's house (Mark and Kai), and without any words of introduction, he demands, "Who is he?" Mark immediately understands the question, but he just rolls his eyes. Kai defends the wife's infidelity, because of Clooney's devotion to his work, and absences from home.
PUTTING LIPSTICK ON A CORPSE. Clooney confronts Kai and demands, "Who his he, did she love him?" But Kai defends the cheating wife, "I won't betray her because she is not here to defend herself . . . it's not her fault. Your marriage was not . . . she was lonely." "DON'T TALK TO ME IN CLICHES," retorts Clooney, feeling disgusted with Kai's rationalization of his wife's hanky-panky. Clooney angrily scolds Kai, "You probably egged her on, in order to add a little drama to your life without any actual risk!" Clooney then refers to the earlier visit by Mark and Kai, to the hospital, to see the comatose wife. Clooney refers to Kai's behavior at putting makeup on the comatose wife, and he exclaims, "YOU WERE PUTTING LIPSTICK ON A CORPSE!" Kai breaks down and cries. Then Clooney turns and leaves, and briskly walks back home. Marks runs out of his house and catches up with Clooney, and reveals the name of the paramour. Clooney pauses on a stone bridge, sobs for a moment, and then continues walking home. In the next scene, Nick Krause (Shailene's boyfriend) makes his entrance. Krause provides a bit of comic relief, now and then, for the rest of the movie. (I will not reveal any more of the story. As the plot continues, the film continues to reveal itself as a great work of art.)
CONCLUSION. It is rare to encounter a movie with so much dialogue, where the dialogue is so skillfully and artfully wrought. In my opinion, THE DESCENDANTS is a true milestone in movie-making. There do exist a few other artfully-wrought psychological dramas that include hanky-panky as a theme. Of these, what I recommend is NO DOWN PAYMENT with Tony Randall, and RAGE TO LIVE with Suzanne Pleshette. FIVE STARS.
By the way, it is the case that Amazon.com posted a review by Kathleen Fennessy (please see Fennessy's review above.). Any person who has lived in Hawaii for a year or so will realize that Kathleen Fennessy is ABSOLUTELY CLUELESS. Fennessy complains about the disheveled nature of the shirts worn by Mr. Clooney in the movie. What Fennessy FAILS to realize is that the conventional and accepted business attire for businessmen, attorneys, and congressmen at the state and federal levels, is "aloha shirts." Fennessy also fails to understand that aloha shirts are NOT to be tucked in (they are to be worn untucked, just like the Philippine barong shirt is to be worn untucked).