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“The Descendants” – Review (POSITIVE)

November 26, 2011

Alexander Payne is one of my top 10 favorite directors. I’ve come to realize that he’s quite the genius when it comes to writing heavy dramatic comedies about everyday Joe’s, psychotic high school bitches, and drug addicted pregnant women. I’ve also come to the understanding that he’s secretly created a trilogy, to be specific I call it the ‘Men of lost souls trilogy’.

In 1999 came “About Schmidt”, the story of a man searching for the answers of life, while stuck in the middle of a tragic loss, at the same time trying to figure out why his only daughter wants to marry a waterbed salesman. Second, in 2002 was “Sideways” about a man lost in depression yearning for happiness, stuck with a friend who’s dangerously close to ruining his. And here you thought that movie was just about wine. Now we fast forward nearly a decade later, Payne is back to complete the cycle with “The Descendants” the story of a father, a man, a husband, who’s lost in paradise enclosed in the pressures of his own life.

It’s clever how Payne sort of repeats these themes; they’re similar in many ways, yet different in the grand scheme of things. That’s one of the main reasons I find him to be one of America’s best working writer/directors. These stories are told very real, discussed in real ways, and either resolved or unresolved in valid conclusions.

Matt King (George Clooney) is an estate lawyer who’s in the middle of selling off the last piece of virgin land his family has owned in Kauai, Hawaii since the 1860’s. He is the soul trustee of the land, with an army of his descendant cousins all pitching in to decide who they’re going to sell to, Matt’s caught in the middle of family troubles. His wife is in a coma after a harsh boating accident. Matt has two daughters each giving him more shit than the other. He’s worried how to handle the situation, what would his wife do? Soon enough, Matt learns from his oldest, Alex (Shailene Woodley), that his wife was cheating on him with another man. A real estate agent (Matthew Lillard) who’ll collect the commission from the sell of the land, if Matt decides to sell.

Lots of thick layers in this movie, everything connects one above the other. In Payne’s past two films, the leads go on journeys of self-discovery. Here, Matt lives in Hawaii, so there isn’t much place to go except island hopping. Matt decides to track down the man who his wife had the affair to tell him in person that she’s in the hospital and if he cares for her at all he would visit her before she’s gone. Matt questions his parenthood as well as his manhood throughout the portion of the film.  Can he achieve some sort of personal nirvana with the pressures life throws at him?

Clooney gives one of his best performances of his career in this movie. I’d be lying if I said this movie wasn’t a tearjerker. The movie tackles some harsh themes, and some disturbing images of a loved one trapped in a coma dying basically in front of you. Yet, somehow Payne finds a way to sneak in these rather uncomfortably funny moments. Example, when Matt confronts his wife about the affair, he starts yelling and berating her while still in a coma. It’s the typical couples fight about their relationship ending just performed in a very unorthodox manner.

For some, I’m sure people might not get a quick out of this depressing story, set in a supposedly happy land, but you should still go in and expect a really good story. “The Descendants” may very well be Alexander Payne’s best movie. It’s certainly my one of my favorites of his, next to “Election”.

GRADE: A-

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 27, 2011 5:59 am

    Clooney and everybody else included is great but it’s really Payne who shines as the writer bringing out some funny humor but not without forgetting about the real rich moments of human drama. Good review. Check out mine when you get the chance.

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