The Descendants

(2011)

Genres: Comedy, Drama

Review: The Descendants

Transcript for Review: The Descendants

IGNATIY VISHNEVETSKY:
From the director who gave us “Sideways” now comes “The Descendants.” Hello, I’m Ignaity Vishnevetsky of Mubi.com

CHRISTY LEMIRE:
And I’m Christy Lemire of the Associated Press.
In Alexander Payne's latest, "The Descendants,” George Clooney stars as Matt King, whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident in Hawaii, where they live. His enormous family has also put him in charge of deciding what to do with the pristine parcel of land they've inherited from their royal Hawaiian ancestors. And he has to care for his two daughters, whom he just doesn't understand.

That's Shailene Woodley as the rebellious teenager Alexandra and Amara Miller as the trouble-making youngster, Scottie. Matt and the girls must make the rounds to friends and family to explain there isn't much hope left for his wife. Alexandra insists on bringing along her idiot boyfriend, played by Nick Krause, for moral support.

Then she drops another bombshell: Her mother was having an affair at the time of the accident. Matt is understandably incensed -- and curious as to who this guy is.

Payne makes movies about men on the brink -- of a nervous breakdown, of personal and professional ruin. That's been true of "Election," "About Schmidt" and "Sideways," and it's certainly true here. Clooney is always great, and his arc from grief to anger to acceptance is always believable. I didn't love "The Descendants" the way I loved Payne's earlier films -- it's too languid, maybe that has something to do with the laid-back setting. And the frequent voiceover from Clooney spells out too much. But the story kept me guessing as to where it would go, and it features some piercing moments of emotional truth. So my thumb ultimately is up.

IGNATIY: I think this is a really good balance of a cynical perspective and a sensitive one. Um, I’d actually go so far as to say that this is Payne’s best film. Now…

CHRISTY: Okay.

IGNATIY: I should qualify that by saying that I generally don’t like his films. The problem that I have with them is that everyone except for the main character tends to be a caricature you know.

CHRISTY: That’s kind of true here as well with the idiot boyfriend. More layers get evolved here.

IGNATIY: The…he starts as a caricature but he expands. He becomes the kind of a fuller character. Um, and I think the reason is that slower pacing, which I know you didn’t like about the film. I actually liked it. I think the fact that he’s able to take his time with the characters, with the plot, with developing the setting. I think that’s what makes his films stand out from his other work.

CHRISTY: It is more mature for him in some ways, and it’s more mature for Clooney as well. I mean now he is a fifty-year old man finally playing somebody who is a dad, who acts his age, you know who has ordinary problems that an ordinary person would have, and it fits him beautifully because he can do everything. Now, he can show he can do this.

IGNATIY: Yeah, I mean he still has the charisma, but he’s surprisingly convincing as a middle-aged you know sort of ordinary put-upon everyman.

CHRISTY: Right, and he has this one great emotional scene when he finally comes to grip about what’s about to happen here, which is very powerful. Um, but there are confrontations that go differently than you might expect with Matthew Lillard as the other man. He’s inspired bit of casting, but those scenes don’t go at all the way you think they might.

IGNATIY: One thing I actually liked about the Lillard character, one thing that plays into this movie’s you could say larger more novelistic scope is that fact that he for example is not introduced until fairly late in the movie.

CHRISTY: Right, and he’s great and the daughters play opposite Clooney are great as well.