Monday, November 21, 2011

What I Saw: The Descendants

What I Saw:   The Descendants

The Hawaiian setting plays an interesting role in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants. On the surface, George Clooney’s character warns us that we should not confuse the scenic views and visitor attractions for some sort of paradise where real people don’t face real problems. Yet oddly the film relies upon these very influences as both an enticement and a diversion to its dramatic storyline.

Clooney’s character faces a mountain of challenges as he tries to deal with his wife’s hospitalization and likely death. In addition to navigating strained relationships with his daughters, father-in-law and a truckload of cousins, he is also negotiating the sale of his family’s inherited and politically-charged land and dealing with the aftermath of his wife’s affair. Given the sheer scope of challenges and characters, anyone looking for plot holes or dropped storylines will certainly find them, but if you are willing to look past the contrivances you will also find an emotional truth. When someone you love is dying it does indeed feel like the whole world is crushing in on you, as old feuds rise up again and a range of emotions compete for your attention.

The acting is superb, not only from Clooney but also from his eldest daughter (Shailene Woodley) and father-in-law (Robert Forster). The cinematography takes full advantage of the beautiful Hawaiian setting, and the script skillfully injects humor in a way that allows the emotional impact to build all the way through to the end. But the film also walks a very thin line between well-crafted tearjerker and emotionally manipulative trickery. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend coming to the theater with your kleenex in hand and your puppet strings ready to be pulled.

Oscar Chances:

Adapted Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Fixon and Jim Rash (Predicted Winner, locked for a nomination)
Lead Actor: George Clooney (currently ranked 2, locked for a nomination, and could easily win given Hollywood’s love for him)
Best Picture (currently ranked 2, locked for a nomination, could easily win)
Best Director: Alexander Payne (currently ranked 2, locked for a nomination, and definite contender for the win)
Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley (currently ranked 3, good bet for the nomination both on her own merits and as part of a multi-category sweep)
Film Editing: Kevin Trent (currently ranked 19)
Supporting Actor: Robert Forster (currently ranked 28, will move up in my next set of predictions, particularly given the possibility of a multi-category sweep)
Cinematography: Phedon Papamichael (currently ranked 28)
Original Score (currently ranked 33--The movie features a wonderful collection of Hawaiian music, but most of it is not original to the film.)
Art Direction: Jane Anne Stewart and Matt Callahan (currently ranked 34)

My Lamb Score: 4 out of 5 Lambs
What is a lamb score? Click HERE to learn more.
Read more of my reviews HERE.
As always, check the Tracker Pages in the upper right hand corner of this blog for the most updated predictions in all categories!


  1. Glad you liked this movie. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing this soon although I'm waiting for it to get a wider release so I don't have to drive 20 miles to see it.

  2. Thanks Castor. I actually think this one would have done fine with a wider initial release (even against Twilight), as the theater that I saw it in was packed. But I guess they are hoping that a slow roll out will build Oscar buzz and keep the film in the conversation longer. I'm sure it will come to your area, and just hope that it does so soon!

  3. Just saw this film today, I thought it was good but nothing great (and certainly not Best Picture worthy). I did really enjoy Shailene Woodley's performance though and I hope she gets nominated and possibly win the Oscar (although Octavia Spencer is still out in front there).

    I think the film will get the 5 nominations you mentioned and in a weak field like this year Robert Forster stands a very good chance of getting nominated.

  4. Thanks Ryan! I think it probably deserves a Best Picture nomination, but I'll be a little disappointed if it wins. I think Woodley is safe for the nom, and I'll also be moving Forster up a bit too on the theory that it might sweep with the nominations, and he's the next likeliest candidate.

  5. Clooney and everybody else included is great but it's really Payne who shines as the writer bringing out some funny humor but not without forgetting about the real rich moments of human drama. Good review.

  6. Thanks Dan. I agree that the screenplay is really strong here!

  7. I just saw this movie yesterday and thought it was good, but not great. I enjoyed it well enough, and Clooney's performance was great, but I thought 50/50 did a better job at simultaneously tugging the heartstrings and bringing the laughs.

  8. Thanks Eric! To be honest, I probably enjoyed 50/50 more than The Descendants too. I would be thrilled if JGL somehow got a nomination, but I think that Clooney is just too powerful in Hollywood for this film to miss.

  9. I haven't seen this movie yet but have watched the previews during the film "The Art of Getting by." Clooney is one of those actors that is a perfect fit for indie film. I agree, Clooney may be up for grabs for another well deserved Oscar nod. Brilliant review.

  10. @Aidy, At this point I think he's guaranteed for the nomination.