The Descendants: People in Hawaii Have Problems Too, You Know!

Here we go as I continue to try to plow through all the Best Picture nominees before I watched The Descendants, which is basically The Kids are All Right for 2011.  Yup, it's a family has issues, family faces crisis, family grows together as a family.  Starring Captain Handsome himself, George Clooney.

50% emotional Oscar bait, 50% commercial for Hawaii's tourism industry.

The first thing that threw me off was the narration.  Oh the narration.  Normally I think that the old adage, "Show me don't tell me," is a bit over simplistic, but in this case I think it would have helped.  It's like, exposition exposition exposition backstory history lesson BAM my wife's in a coma.  Now we can start the movie.  Matt loses me when he talks about how people in Hawaii have problems just like anyone else, and I'm like, you have to decide between selling your land and making a ton of money, selling your land and making a shit ton of money, or not selling the land and owning 25,000 acres of paradise.  So maybe our problems are a little bit different.

Anyway, Matt finds out from his "troublemaking" daughter (who conveniently stops being a troublemaker as soon as the plot needs her to be supportive to her dad) that wifey-poo was having an affair with some real estate guy.  Side note: who in the hell cheats on George Clooney with Matthew Lillard??  No offense, man, but come on.  So now Matt's wrestling with his feelings about his wife's infidelity, her impending death, how to raise two daughters he barely knows, and a big business deal that will have an enormous impact on the entire state.

So he decides to track down Lillard to give him the option of saying goodbye to Elizabeth.  Noble move, my friend.  We go on an adventure with him, his daughters, and Sid (random tagalong kid) as they find the scamp.  But apparently the scamp is married with kids, and we find out from the Dude's weird, slightly less cool brother that this real estate guy is going to make a mint when Matt sells the land.  This makes things slightly more complicated.

But in the end, Matt does what he came to do: he tells Matthew Lillard about his wife.  Lillard apparently doesn't care.  What a douche.  Anyway, Matt comes to terms with a lot of things.  He decides not to sell the land (as if George Clooney would play a character that would make a decision with major environmental repercussions.  Please), and the Dude is not pleased.  But screw him, the important thing is that Matt now has a strong relationship with his daughters.

Random Musings:

  • Wow, this middle-aged blond surfer guy is awkward.  Also...of course his name is Troy.  Of course.

  • I do really like the analogy of Matt's family as an single unit, but each person is an isolated island.

  • How awkward is it that Matt heads over to his best friend's house to see if they know that Elizabeth was having an affair, and they're all like Yeah sure man but we didn't want to betray her trust.  Seriously?  Get some better friends!

  • So the grandfather is berating Matt for not giving Elizabeth more money and her own boat, because if she had those things she wouldn't have done thrill sports.  Ummm...the fuck?

First of all, it is not a husband's job to give his wife every little whim that pops into her head just because he happens to be wealthy.  As far as I can tell, they have a beautiful home in Hawaii, a pool, their daughter's at a $35000/year boarding's not like he's making them dig around in other people's garbage for food or something.  And also...if she had more money she wouldn't have done thrill sports?  Right, because all the really poor people I know are into bungee jumping and skydiving and stuff like that.  Oh wait, no...that's what rich people do.

  • OK, I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure that even a stoned surfer dude would know enough not to laugh at an old woman who clearly has Alzheimers, especially not in front of her family.  I'm calling a penalty on this one, for blatant emotional manipulation.  I get it, want him to seem like a complete asshole so we're all touched when he turns out to have hidden depths.  But it's too much.

  • Did he seriously have a catered party to tell everyone he's taking his wife off life support?  I guess that's one way to do it.

  • Why are they bringing Sid?  Seriously!   He just met this kid, he obviously doesn't like him, but he's perfectly willing to pay for his airfare and room and board while they all go off on an adventure?

  • Actual Hawaiians drive around with little hula dancers on their dashboards?  Well...that's just tacky.

  • Jesus it must be a soul-crushing job to be the psychologist at the hospital who has to tell all the little kids that their parents are dead.  I would not last one day doing that.

So that's The Descendants.  I liked the kids best.  I think Shailene Woodley established herself as a really likeable, strong actress, and I'd love to see her get some better roles (ie not on ABC Family).  Also really enjoyed Amara Miller.  Hollywood has this idea about what "real" kids are like, and it usually involves a precocious little pixie running around asking all the right questions and staring up at people with big blue eyes.  And most of the times, the kids are too self-aware to give a really good performance.  Amara Miller, on the other hand, comes off as a totally realistic, normal 10-year-old girl.  I love that her hair is messy sometimes, I love that she uses bad words that she doesn't just all rings true to me.

On to George Clooney.  He's good.  I know that he's not the most varied performer, but it's hard to argue that he's not a solid actor who is charismatic and incredibly dependable.  I like him in this movie, as I like him in most movies.  Is it Oscar-worthy?  Maybe a nomination, but I don't know if he deserves to win the big prize for this one.

Generally speaking, it's a well-executed film, albeit one whose story has been told many times before.  It's got beautiful scenery, good acting, nice pacing, and some strong emotional content, although some of the Hallmark moments towards the end fall a little flat for me.  The more subtle moments work best, like when Matt realizes that his wife's lover stands to gain a lot of money from his business deal, and he gets this look on his face that says Oh Hell No.  Or the very end, when they're all sitting on the couch watching TV, eating ice cream, and cuddling under a blanket.  I appreciate that more than Judy Greer and George Clooney getting all covered in snot over Elizabeth's dying body.

So overall, I consider this a solid film.  It didn't change my life, but I enjoyed watching it.

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