Tragi-comedy earns its Oscar noms

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Andrew Mayhill
The Broadside

 

George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller star in "The Descendants" now in theatres. (Fox Searchlight Pictures)

Set in Hawaii, Alexander Payne directs a humorous and tragic tale of grief and reconciliation with “The Descendants.” George Clooney stars as Matt King, a wealthy lawyer emotionally detached from his wife and two daughters. Matt is forced to reconnect with his daughters when his wife suffers a severe boating accident and falls into a coma.
Clooney’s performance as Matt King feels very natural. He plays his character similarly to some of his previous film roles except that he adds a noticeable element of inexperience when it comes to his character’s parenting abilities. Between Alexandra’s (Shailene Woodley) rebellious and defiant nature and Scottie’s (Amara Miller) impulsive and over-active behaviors, Matt King is always at a loss with how to react to his daughters.
The film’s humor, setting and music keep “The Descendants” from becoming too bogged down by an overwhelming feeling of grief. Every sad scene is quickly supplemented with a joke, some upbeat Hawaiian music or a relaxing scene at the beach. Payne manages a delicate balance of light heartedness amidst a tragedy not seen in many films and he pulls it off nicely.
The film’s flaw lies with Matt King’s comatose wife, Elizabeth King. Since she is in a coma, development of her character relies solely on the film’s dialogue between other characters talking about her. Unfortunately, this falls flat and Elizabeth’s character remains one-dimensional. While Matt King and his daughters evolve and develop, Elizabeth remains the same person to all of them even by the end of the film.
It is an enjoyable experience from start to finish. It provides enough distractions in its setting, music and humor to keep itself from becoming a film about an overwhelming emotional tragedy. It’s a must see and its Academy Awards nominations come at no surprise.

(Contact: AMayhill@coc.edu)

1 COMMENT

  1. “The Descendants” is a great film, no doubt about it. But given the combination of golden globe and Oscar buzz I expected a lot more.

    The story and the premise of the movie is ideal. In fact, the tagline caught my attention enormously: “trying to reconnect with daughters.” That is exactly the type of movie I like. Instantly, I could tell this was a movie about character development and human connection, usually the type of movies with the greatest potential.

    Unfortunately, it was merely decent, but not special. It felt like the movie built up much potential, but failed to release it at a certain point through the movie. The complete movie, for me, felt too introductory in nature. Not necessarily the plot, because the plot does evolve, however the overall “feel” of the movie felt preliminary to a bigger and much more dramatic event which never happened.

    It is sometimes complicated to explain my feelings towards the movie because the fault wasn’t necessarily technical or specific. But it did linger around and distracted my viewing somewhat. I felt like there was still more to discover in both Clooney’s character and the character of his daughters. Also, I think this element alone impacted on Clooney’s performance. His performance was good, definitely, but again, because I felt like there was more to be explored, naturally, I also felt like his performance could have been added to (but not necessarily improved).

    Given the Oscar buzz of this movie, I have to compare it to other movies of a similar nature. And unfortunately, I didn’t feel like there was sufficient connection between the characters…although the potential to reach that connection was established, it was not acted upon in my opinion. Unfortunately I have to say there have been better developed “re-establishing connection” movies.

    All in all, this is an enjoyable movie, but it is missing some important elements which deteriorates the viewing experience to some extent.

    Have a nice day!
    Debbie

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