NEVER SEEN IT: The Descendants

descendants
BY IRENE KARRAS

Date released: December 9, 2011

Date watched: July 2, 2013

Why now? It’s summer, it’s on Netflix, and it’s one of those recent films that people keep telling me I have to see.

Why not then? Christmas?! What parent of three has time to see an adult movie at Christmas?!

Expectations:

  • A sad George Clooney I want to take care of. Forever.
  • Snotty, world-weary kids
  • Tears. Oodles and oodles of tears
  • An Oscar-worthy adapted screenplay
  • Adultery–it’s an Alexander Payne movie, after all
  • Quirky supporting characters
  • Lots of pretty scenery

What I actually got:

  • A stellar performance by Clooney as a guy trying to make the right decisions when confronted with some tough choices. After his wife, Elizabeth, has a boating accident and falls into a coma, he learns she was cheating on him. At the same time, he’s got some family business to the tune of 25,000 coveted Hawaiian acres of land to deal with. It’s one of his best performances and worthy of an Oscar nomination. Completely succeeded in making me want to take care of him. Forever.
  • The kids were not snotty at all but generally awesome in their world-weariness. Shailene Woodley, who plays his oldest daughter, has fantastic chemistry with Clooney, her on-screen dad; her younger sister, played by Amara Miller, is heart-breaking at times; and Woodley’s on-screen slacker, sometimes insensitive but generally good teen boyfriend, played to perfection by Nick Krause.
  • Tears. Plenty of them. But plenty of laughs too.
  • A gentle film that poses some interesting questions, the movie allows us to see these characters at both their best and worst. I’d say that’s Oscar-worthy writing.
  • Adultery!
  • Robert Forster as Elizabeth’s dad makes you laugh and then splinters your heart into a million pieces. Judy Greer as the wife’s boyfriend’s wife gives a subtle, pretty performance, and Matthew Lillard, as the boyfriend holds his own. Beau Bridges also shows up as one of Clooney’s cousins. This is Clooney’s movie but he is generous with his co-stars, and the supporting actors have plenty of opportunities to shine.
  • Lots of pretty scenery, but no sentimentality about Hawaii or Hawaiians. Just regular people with regular problems in a place that happens to be beautiful.

One night-in stand or second date potential?

There’s no real “‘a ha!” surprise that you’d want to evaluate for clues. This is a film worth watching again for its performances and as a lesson in how to handle sad material without melodrama.

IreneIrene Karras is a Calgary-based communications consultant and freelance writer with a fondness for 1950s Greek melodramas, 1980s coming of age movies, weird Canadian films, and, by necessity, PG movies. She blogs at misplacedmysassy.wordpress.com and tweets @irene_karras.

Read more of Irene’s posts.

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