Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Descendants

The Descendants; tragicomedy, USA, 2011; D: Alexander Payne, S: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster

Matt King is a lawyer living in Hawaii. When his estranged wife Elizabeth has a boat accident and is left in a coma, Matt has to take care of his two daughters Alex (17) and Scottie (10) and renew his contact with them. He is shocked, however, when he finds out from Alex that Elizabeth was cheating on him with a certain Brian. Together with Alex' friend Sid, Matt and Scottie go to meet Brian. Since Elizabeth will not wake up from coma, her own wish legally binds the doctors to terminate the machines keeping her alive. Matt, who wanted to sell a piece of land he inherited from his Hawaiian great grandparents, decides to keep it.

Tired of glamorous and perfect actors and lives shown on the big screens, director Alexander Payne stayed faithful to his vision of 'honesty' in his movies revolving around losers or outsiders, where life is never a fairy tale but a bitter, weird, yet also humorous experience. "The Descendants" starts out like a typical Payne film, where George Clooney's character Matt gives a cynical narration about his life in Hawaii: "My friends on mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We're all just here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips and catching waves. Are they insane? Do they honestly think our families are less screwed up, our cancers less fatal, our grief less devastating?" The movie has a good, yet conventional storyline, which unfortunately overlaps with Payne's similar film "About Schmidt", where the protagonist also discovers his wife cheated on him after she died (here she is "only" in coma). Clooney is great in the leading role, as well as other actors, especially Shailene Woodley as his daughter Alex who gives a highlight in the first half of the film in the pool scene where she for the first time hears that her mother will die, and then submerges in the water to release a cry under water. Unfortunately, the movie runs out of highlights in the second half, leaving it almost empty, turning into a good, emotional, yet standard family drama.


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