Movie #46: The Descendants

I don’t think these kinds of serious, mundane films are really for me. I think I like my movies more for escapism, taking me to places and experiences I would probably never have in real life. While The Descendants was set in Hawaii, it clearly wasn’t meant as an escape (in fact, those false expectations of life in Hawaii are the topic of the opening voiceover). Nevertheless, I can’t be sure that’s true because I don’t really understand why this movie (and these kinds of movies) are made. George Clooney gives a pretty good performance as Matt King, a lawyer and father of two girls whose wife is left in a coma after a speed-boating accident. He struggles to keep it together with his daughters, in-laws, friends, etc. and he also learns that his wife had been cheating on him (I feel free to give away this little twist, because clearly this movie is not going for gotchas or surprises). At the same time, his extended family of cousins is coming together to vote on whether they will sell to developers a large portion of untouched land that they inherited. The film is composed almost entirely of scenes of tough conversations or quiet introspection. As you can expect, there’s almost no real action to this movie (except there’s a few odd scenes of Clooney running which I found extremely silly-looking. Does he normally run like that, or was that a dramatic choice?). So, after watching the entire film, I was still unsure of the point. Was this meant to be a slice of life? Was it meant to show a “typical” family struggling with complicated emotional issues? Are viewers meant to relate to these characters? Or was it just an opportunity for drama: create some characters, put them in a situation, and watch the actors transform and emote? To that end, I think most of the actors did a very good job. Charcters all seemed very fleshed-in and real, especially Shailene Woodley as the older daughter Alex. She made a nice transition from willful problem child to zealous support for her father (but not in a sappy way) as he tried to find out more about her mother’s lover. Surprisingly, Judy Greer also had a small role, and she kind of stole her scenes by bringing her usual aggressively-pleasant yet emotionally-real persona. Another oddity about the movie (I assume that it’s a result of the original book) is that Hawaii itself seems to be a big part of the story. The property sale by the King family is something that affects the entire state, and everyone seems interested in it. As well, there is an almost non-stop soundtrack of Hawaiian music mixed quite loudly into most scenes. The songs range from slightly mellow to almost bouncy and I found it a bit distracting, but I am assuming that director Alexander Payne wanted the music to enhance the scenes. I guess I’ll just add the music to the list of choices that I don’t understand or appreciate about this film (3 out of 5).

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