Review: The Descendants

Starring: George Clooney. It’s his showcase, let’s not kid ourselves that anyone else matters much.
Director: Alexander Payne
Certificate: 15

I like it when films teach me things. This one has, if nothing else, taught me the correct spelling of the word “descendants”.

I spent the first 10 minutes or so of this movie wondering how long it had been in development, largely because I felt that commissioning a film in which a bunch of rich people, several of whom squandered their cash and need bailing out, are agonising about selling a shitload of island acreage that they collectively own which will ease their financial woes but potentially upset some of the locals, is a rather tough sell in These Tough Economic TimesTM. Certainly, I found myself imagining a man in the corner playing the world’s tiniest violin any time anyone on screen suggested they felt remotely hard done by. Of course, we had hard-working, frugally-living George Clooney as our main identifier (whose character is called Matt King, which left me thinking of Super Hans throughout) so that we wouldn’t feel too alienated from the film. You know, if we didn’t focus on the fact that he belonged to a country club and sent his eldest daughter to an expensive private school. But this is a film review and not my personal giant political soapbox, so let’s just accept that this is the world in which these are the circumstances and move on with our lives.

So, George Clooney, then. I have no particular issues with him as a human being or as an actor; in fact I generally consider him to be someone who can be relied upon to deliver a solid performance even if the film itself is sub-par. He gives another very good performance here, playing a man operating a little out of his comfort zone as he tries to raise his daughters (having previously, we are led to assume, left the majority of the parenting to his wife) while coping with the damn land sale and address the fact that his wife, who was recently injured in a boat-racing accident, is going to die soon and was also cheating on him. It’s a lot to take on for the character and a lot to act for the actor, and I think Clooney underplays all of this trauma and readjustment nicely. However, I’m just not entirely convinced that it’s a performance that deserves quite so many award nominations. I can’t help thinking that had another actor gone in and given the exact same performance, it would have been completely overlooked, and the main reason this is getting so much buzz is because awards types like to give trophies to Mr Clooney.

As far as tough acting jobs go, my sympathies were with Patricia Hastie, as the comatose and soon-to-die wife, who basically just has to lie there looking progressively crusty as the film goes on. As my boyfriend said, you can just imagine that conversation with the agent: “Great news! You’re going to be married to George Clooney in a new movie that everyone’s going to love. There’s just this one thing…” There’s a lovely performance from Shailene Woodley as troubled daughter Alexandra who, having known about the affair and been sworn to secrecy, finds a strange sort of liberation in the experience of telling the news to relatives and tracking down the man her mother was having an affair with. Who turns out to be Brian Speer, played by Matthew Lillard, who’s not aging well, but I guess doing all that stuff with his face in Scream and Scooby Doo had to come back to haunt him in the end. Despite the fairly glacial pace of the whole movie, the scenes where Matt and Alexandra confront Speer at the beach house he’s staying in with his wife and kids and discover how he really felt about the affair are crackers.

The rest of the time it’s a very slow, thoughtful character piece which is certainly well made, but never quite engages in the way I hoped it would – perhaps it’s the fact that all of the main characters are so emotionally guarded that means they keep a distance from the audience as well as each other, but I just never felt particularly invested in their issues – particularly the land-selling subplot, which feels like an afterthought most of the time it comes up, and wasn’t really resolved to my satisfaction. However, setting it in Hawaii was a masterstroke, because even if the family drama wasn’t always compelling, the scenery was always lovely.

Coming attractions:
Bel Ami: Robert Pattinson in Eastern European Twink Porn: The Movie
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: I honestly thought this one had been and gone already, but apparently not.
The Woman In Black: Harry Potter And The Movie That’s Trailed So Often I’m Struggling To Think Of New Gags

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