The Descendants (2011)
Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including ones for directing, acting, writing, and Best Picture, The Descendants paints a beautiful, solemn picture of the real Hawaii, which has the same hardships and strife as the rest of the country. Landowner and descendant of Hawaiian royalty, Matt King (George Clooney in an inspired performance) compares his family to the Hawaiian archipelago; part of one, but separated…and slowly drifting further apart. After his wife is put into a coma after a near-fatal boating accident, daughters Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alex (Shailene Woodley) must help their “back-up parent” make some of the most vital personal and professional decisions of his life, and slowly drift back together in the meantime.
The Descendants’ profound and poetic script is based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and adapted beautifully by writer/director Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash. Rivaled only by Hugo and writer John Logan, I would project The Descendants’ philosophical script to win its Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In a relatively weak field for Best Actor (no stammering Colin Firth to lock in a win this year), George Clooney must be the best choice. His emotional depth (from positively irritated to grief-stricken) makes for one of the best (if not the best) performances of his illustrious career. Little Amara Miller is also wonderful, a bratty little rising star that appears in her very first motion picture (it must be the best debut performance in acting in all of 2011). And Matthew Lillard has grown up since Scooby-Doo a decade ago; I can even get past his voice and take him a bit more seriously. Nick Krause is pigeonholed as Sid, the friend of daughter Alex, who much enjoys the lazy Hawaiian way of life. Woodley (who you may know as the star of The Secret Life of the American Teenager) is wonderful in her role, though she hasn’t quite perfected the art of crying. In a film full of tears, some of which may be your own, it is hard to have flawless showings of grief. Arguably the toughest act to master, crying on demand is almost as hard as running in flip-flops.
Coupled with the beautiful Hawaiian soundtrack, the gorgeous scenes shown throughout The Descendants are almost as breathtaking as Midnight in Paris’ stunning cityscapes (I’ve realized I enjoy referencing other movies in my reviews, especially ones that released in the same year).
While it tells a wonderful story, possesses some incredible acting talents, and shows some beautiful scenes, The Descendants may, unfortunately, become a forgettable film. Unlike The Artist’s silence, Midnight in Paris’ brilliant script and Parisian love, and Hugo’s mastery of 3D, The Descendants doesn’t employ many unconventional story-telling techniques, just uses the ordinary ones very well. I can’t imagine it winning Best Picture or Best Director, and I would be disappointed if it did.
The Descendants is set to release on DVD and Blu-ray sometime next month. What did you think of The Descendants? Will it win Oscars? Should it? Remember to subscribe to email updates at the bottom of your screen and look out for my review of War Horse to come out before the Oscars!