It wasn’t very funny. It wasn’t very sad. It wasn’t particularly deep or complex. But I will say it was incredibly well acted. Clooney deserves his Oscar nomination if not the reward of taking home the prestigious award but the film itself doesn’t deserve the same. That’s not to say it isn’t a great film. It is. Just not worthy of an award in a category competing against The Artist, The Help, and Tree Of Life.
After a boating accident that leaves his wife in a coma, Matt King (George Clooney) is forced to re-connect with his daughters. And after his teenage daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) reveals an unpleasant truth which threatens to tear his family apart, Matt, his daughters and their dopey but adorable friend Sid (Nick Krause) take a trip to Kauai on a road trip to self discovery and making things right.
It’s a slow burner that gains little momentum and at times felt unnecessarily drawn out. Were it not for its complex characters I’d have completely switched off. But they were intriguing enough, heart warming and sweet that I couldn’t turn away. Clooney especially, with his on-screen charisma and charm had me glued to the screen. It’s hard to turn away from that face. But even without it he is a sensational talent.
It’s cliché but the location was key and a character in itself, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Hawaiian Islands. Central to the narrative, Matt must decide whether to sell the inherited land handed down through the family from a great ancestor and Hawaiian Princess. It’s a piece of paradise. Its irresistible, untouched lush green forest and endless clear blue sea a stark and striking contrast to the crumbling foundation of the family and sombreness of the narrative. Without the colourfully rich landscape The Descendants would undoubtedly have been overly depressing and bleak. But instead it was the perfect blend of heart warming sadness, humour and relief. I even shed a tear, if only for the briefest moment.
Shailene Woodley plays angsty teenager, pissed-off-at-my-parents really well and gave the films second best performance (after Clooney of course). She will definitely be one to look out for in the future. It’s a character driven film with strong performances. There were no weak links, though it surprised me to see Mathew Lillard cast as the ‘other man’. It didn’t seem the perfect fit but I was quickly proven wrong. It was refreshing to see him play a character different from his usual goofy, playboy roles.
The Descendants is definitely worth a watch. But the trailers set an expectation the film doesn’t live up to which is disappointing. However its stellar performances and breathtaking visuals more than make up for that in a sensitive, and enjoyable film with a chilled out, soothing Hawaiian soundtrack. Clooney doesn’t disappoint!
7 ½ / 10