The Descendants

The Descendants
Release Date: 27th January 2012
Director: Alexander Payne
Rating: 15
Ad Hominem Enterprises

Hawaii is a gorgeous place. Blue blue skies and everyone lazing around in flowery shirts. Clooney points out that while Hawaii is seen as a paradise, problems are still abound. Right you are, Clooney.

Playing a disconnected family man, Matt King, he has to face the fact his wife is in a coma. He must now look after his two daughters, and break the news to everyone that his wife just isn’t going to wake up. Turns out his wife hasn’t been quite so faithful which brings a new bout of problems for Matt to deal with. Dealing with death, family, selling family land and the jerk who cheated with his wife, Matt has it tough.

The problem with The Descendants is how everything is dealt with. The film isn’t one for subtlety and everything feels so heavy-handed. Internal monologues tell us how Matt is feeling, most of it we can figure out ourselves with the screen direction, and the film tells us when to laugh and cry. When the cheesy coffee advert music kicks in, be prepared to shed those tears. When the idiotic dude says something you laugh. In between you just shake your head and go ‘Oh Matt, you just can’t deal with those daughters of yours’ who are guilty of problems we never see on-screen. Ten year old Scottie bullies another girl, but is quickly resolved, and the older daughter Alex has a drug problem. We never see her take or consider them once though. Pretty much as soon as the family and the idiotic dude get together, everything is fine. Few arguments, more family loving.

The main meat of the plot focuses on Matt tracking down the guy who was sleeping with his wife. Most of this investigation tends to involve walking on beaches and taking in the beautiful scenery. Coincidences are what move the plot forwards, but these feel ham-fisted. In a way the barrage of ‘me too’ and ‘or you should know him because…’ remind me of the magical Christmas film Tokyo Godfathers, which has everything fall together thanks to luck and coincidence. But unlike Tokyo Godfathers, it doesn’t seem to the key point of the film, so it doesn’t feel earned. When things are hitting dead ends, something will pop up to keep Matt going. The moment when the idiotic dude says his father died was the breaking point. Doesn’t add anything, feels too forced. Much like everything in The Descendants.

A shame really as The Descendants has the pieces to have been a good film. If it told us less and cut out the rather pointless revelations of some of the other characters, instead focusing on a real family in trouble, everything would have worked out. Instead we have a film which won’t let you think. Laugh at these swearing kids! Be sad at this long shots of the comatose woman we only know bad things about! Up In The Air is a much better Clooney comedy drama.


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