Matt King (George Clooney) is a husband and a father who has never really been there for his family; he’s the back up parent. But when his wife gets into a coma (this happened in a boating accident), he is forced to get back in his two daughters life. Taking care of his daughters is hard enough, and he also has to decide if he should sell the family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. This situation gets even more complicated when a dark secret is suddenly raveled that changes everything. This secret is in the trailer, but if you can don’t see it. I went into this movie cold, and it’s better to let the story unfold all on its own. I love trailers. I just don’t like when they false advertise or spoil plot points. It seems that half of the trailers lately have done one of those things, if not both.
Alexander Payne is a great director. He has a certain way he unravels his story’s that makes everything happening feel so natural. He makes you think one thing, then the next moment he makes you second guess yourself. This is a movie that makes you feel many emotions; there are moments of comedy, and of drama. The way they coincide is done extremely well. Any plot element thrown in the mix suddenly never feels like it was thrown in there for no reason at all. Payne did this perfect in Sideways, he does it marvelously here, but still doesn’t top Sideways. That is an impossible task. The central and important plot elements come together nicely, and the same thing can be said about all the side ones as well. One thing I was falsely worried about when it was first introduced was Sid.
Sid starts out as the one dimensional comic relief character. I was laughing, but I started to hope he wouldn’t be like this for the whole movie. He pretty much is until Sid eventually gets an arc. It happened in a way where I came to like the character. Even when he was one dimensional for a while, he still provided everything his character should have. He was so annoying in one scene I was expecting Clooney’s character to throw Sid out of his car. In a sense of story, he is completely pointless. But he was essentially needed for tone. I couldn’t think of one thing funny that didn’t have something to do with Sid. If you take him out it’s all drama. This was a risk to put this kind of character. No body wants a one dimensional character when all the others aren’t. He evolved a bit and brought that humor at just the right moment. I shouldn’t have doubted Alexander Payne, one of his best qualities is his characters. He makes no all out villains or hero’s, just real people.
The screenplay was excellent in every aspect. You go on a journey with these characters (even with Sid, once you get used to him) and you feel and understand everything that they are doing. Even if someone does something wrong, you still sympathize with them. You see everyone’s point of view. The jokes aren’t forced and you’re not hit over the head with them. Some dramas can be over dramatic (that is the worst, it gets to sappy), but not here, you do feel something. Another thing I love is that his messages are subtle enough where they still get across, but you don’t get hit over the head with them. This way that adds to the story and you actually feel something.
George Clooney gives his best performance to date. If he got an Oscar nomination for Up in the Air then he should definitely get one this year, it is one of the best, if not best performance of the year. His performance in Up in the Air was very good. It was just a bland role where he couldn’t do it all that much. Here he gets an emotional role and he aces it. Clooney also does something he has never done before; he is playing a regular guy. Clooney is the last actor I thought would take this role. But he really becomes Matt King. I don’t just throw that claim out there (an example of this is Leonardo DiCaprio in (Revolutionary Road), but he deserves that claim. Shailene Woodley gives her best performance to date as well. Woodley gives an emotional performance too, and she does a great job. She also holds her own when she has a scene with Clooney. They made me believe their father daughter relationship. Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, and Amara Miller are all fantastic. The whole cast in general are all great. They help this movie a lot with their acting.
The soundtrack and cinematography were done exceptionally well. I liked listing to the Hawaiian tunes; they created a great atmosphere and enhanced the scene. They weren’t just thrown in randomly or without any cause. Some beautiful shots really made me want to go to Hawaii as soon as the movie was over. Cinematography could have been an after thought because the story is so engaging, but with the amazing look of he movie added, you don’t ever have the urge to take your eyes off the screen – I know I didn’t.
Alexander Payne has made yet another great movie. The Descendants is a great movie with no visible faults to it. What it does best is surprise you. Hearing about the plot it seemed like it was going to be a 30 minute soap opera TV show extended into an almost 2 hour movie. But it managed to be a very compelling movie. Payne’s last movie was the flawless Sideways, after he did that my bar was set very high for his movies. This guy has just mastered human emotions. The Descendants is an emotional roller coaster, and it’s well worth the ride.