The Descendants – Movie Review

Alexandre Payne’s first movie in seven years is about Matt King (George Clooney), a Hawaii based lawyer and the trustee over his family’s pristine lands, worth in the billions of dollars, as they are about to sell. However, tragedy hits Matt’s family when a boating accident strikes his wife Elizabeth and she becomes comatose. It is then that Matt has to deal with his two daughters Scottie and Alex (Shaileene Woodley in a brilliant role), except that he always thought of himself as the “backup parent.” And after learning that his wife will never wake up, Matt has to set out on the path to say goodbye.

But as Matt’s older daughter Alex reveals, her mother was having an affair with a real-estate agent named Brian Speer, with the intention of asking for divorce. The Descendants then becomes Matt’s obsession with finding Speer, to see the man who was taking his wife away from him and to allow him the chance to bid her farewell.

Telling it like this, The Descendants seem like a true tear-jerker, right? Well, no. The movie is flimsy. This is a movie that wants to confront painful truths about love, loss, family, yet there’s a sense of emotional brittleness present throughout. It attempts to build itself as an emotional tour de force for the viewer but comes crashing down without satisfying neither itself nor the viewer in question. Even the scene, which is supposed to be the movie’s highlight, of Matt talking to his comatose wife, seeking catharsis, ends flat amid all the emotional dryness of the previous acts.

Perhaps The Descendant‘s biggest mistake, of sorts, is the fact that you can’t relate emotionally to the movie’s centerpiece: the wife who’s dying. After learning that she was cheating on him, you get disconnected from her character and, in a movie that is almost two hours, there isn’t enough character development to let you perhaps give her a reprieve, even as she lays in the hospital bed on life-support.

George Clooney’s character is extremely like-able. His performance that drives this character is top notch, nuanced and engaging. And yet, you just can’t bring yourself to care for anything he does, which is more of the shortcomings of the story around which his character is built. The story alludes to his shortcomings as a father, husband, and yet never showcases them. He is the man hurt by his wife’s betrayal as he tries to say goodbye and deal with the responsibilities his new situation has forced on him. But it’s just not convincing enough. The movie is centered around him. You end the movie not knowing anything more than what you did as the movie started.
And it’s just that… The Descendants may be a good movie in absolute value but its heart and your heart regarding its characters are as far apart as it can get. It tries to be sentimental but it turns out to be comical. And when it tries to be comical, it comes off as satirical. I doubt Alexandre Payne wanted his first movie in seven years to be such a mess. It’s a shame, really, especially with all the acclaim it’s been getting.



2 thoughts on “The Descendants – Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Moneyball – Movie Review « A Separate State of Mind

  2. Pingback: 5 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Watching The Oscars This Year « A Separate State of Mind

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