Posted May 26, 2011 by Alex Moss Editor in Films
 
 

Descendants, The


Uplifting and downbeat all at once, this is typical Alexander Payne and fun, rather than cool, Clooney.

Uplifting and downbeat all at once, this is typical
Alexander Payne and fun, rather than cool, Clooney.

George Clooney is
that rare breed of actor. A man
loved by women and admired for his charm by men, he can do little wrong in the
eyes of, well, anyone. Over the course of his career he’s flitted from the
serious (Michael Clayton) to the
playful (Intolerable Cruelty), the
wacky (O Brother Where Art Thou) to
the cool (Ocean’s Eleven) and, in
recent years, he’s even given us middle-aged angst (Up In The Air). If
you’re ever in any doubt as to which Clooney territory you’re in look at the
eyes. If they’re barely open, you’re in cool/serious mode. If they’re darting wildly everywhere,
welcome to wacky world. And if
they’re wide with pent up angst, you’re firmly in mid-life crisis country. The
Descendants
is somewhere between the second and the third and, while it
might not hit a Clooney high, it still manages to be thoroughly engaging thanks
to Mr. Nespresso.

When his wife
suffers a coma-inducing boating accident, Matt King (Clooney) has to deal with
his two daughters, an impending land deal and the realisation that his wife may
not have been faithful to him.
Recruiting his eldest daughter Alex (Woodley) and her surfer-dude boyfriend Sid (Krause) to find his wife’s lover, Matt sets out on a voyage of
discovery about himself and his young family.

Alexander Payne has long since been a director who knows how to
deliver bittersweet comedy in spades and The
Descendants
is no different.
There is a sense of inexorable fate when you consider seven years ago
Payne released his biggest hit to date, Sideways,
a film Clooney actively sought to play the role Jack. At the time Payne felt Clooney was too big a name, the role
would eventually go to Thomas Hayden
Church
, but now he fits the bill perfectly. Matt is a fairly level-headed guy, he runs a successful law
practice in Hawaii and is the trustee to a very highly valued piece of
real-estate. But he’s something of
an absentee father and has more than one or two issues with how to communicate
with his daughters.

However, this
being a Payne film it, The Descendants
is not about the doom and gloom of the Kings’ situation but how they deal with
the grief by banding together as a family unit. Yes, there is a vague sub-plot involving which bid for the
land Matt will accept and in doing so gain him and his countless cousins a
small fortune, but that is simply to comment on the importance of family. See what they did with the title
there? What Payne does so well
here is pepper the drama with moments of comedy that are so perfectly timed you
cannot fail to laugh out loud.
It’s not about slapstick, although Clooney’s running is something to
behold, but more a burst of profanity or a reaction to something altogether
ridiculous.

The real
highlight is in Matt’s interactions with his kids. As a normally absentee father he is shocked at the language
his daughters use. Clooney and
Woodley, as the rebellious seventeen-year-old, bounce off each other in a
familiar way that only fathers and daughters can. There is a spark there that at any moment could ignite a
venomous flame but at the same time little is said between these two that does
not strike a warm bond.

Speaking of warm,
Hawaii has never looked so cold.
As Clooney’s voiceover states at the start of the film: “F*ck
paradise”. Yes, the scenery might
be lush, but Payne’s Hawaii is overcast with grey clouds and humid heat that
speaks directly to the mood of the film rather than as an excuse for cast and
crew to get a nice tan. Even the
swimming pools are festooned with dead leaves while the Hawaiian shirts do
little to flatter Clooney’s form (sorry ladies).

But The Descendants is all about Clooney
and again he does not fail to deliver.
Firmly in mid-life crisis mode, he remains the man that it’s hard not to
love. The salt and pepper hair
here manically trying to spring out at the sides he finds a level of despair
just the right side of funny rather than tragic. We sympathise with Matt but never pity him. Of course it helps that his cheating
wife is in a comma so we never get to hear her side of the argument but who
really cares what she has to say.
The fact remains that Clooney has wonderful chemistry with the cast, in
particular Woodley and Krause (the F*ckstick as Matt delightfully refers to
him) who allow for a constant opportunity for jovial name-calling to
thrive.

The Descendants is not a film of huge originality but it’s
crowd-pleasing and heartfelt without ever feeling schmaltzy, funny without
feeling forced, it is a film that paints a smile on the face and leaves it
there long after you’ve left the cinema.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com