Descendants, The (2011)

THE SCOOP 
Director: Alexander Payne
Plot: A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife suffers a boating accident.

Genre: Comedy/Drama
Awards: Won 1 Oscar - Best Adapted Screenplay. Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Director, Best Lead Actor, Best Film Editing.
Runtime: 115min
Rating: NC16  for language including some sexual references.

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IN RETROSPECT 
The debate continues whether The Descendants was deserving of the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama). There is no question about its quality, and it is likely to appear in my , or anyone else's Top Ten list, yet some, including myself, feel that the film has not done enough to convince them that it should deserve to win. Maybe a nomination, yes, but a win? Not so certain. Don't get me wrong, this is a beautiful, effective film. But it feels too lightweight. It feels exactly like Driving Miss Daisy (1989) or Chariots of Fire (1981) winning the Best Picture Oscar in the eighties, and on hindsight, they don't feel quite right, ain't it?

Written and directed by Alexander Payne, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for his much loved film, Sideways (2004), The Descendants stars George Clooney as Matt King, a father who has problems connecting with his two daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). When his wife hits her head in a boating accident and enters a coma that she may never wake, Matt faces a future that is at best uncertain, forcing him to re-connect with his children. Payne's film takes a deceptively simple premise and fashions it into a rich, captivating tale about the need to love, forgive, and move on with life.

Clooney, who is sometimes criticized for his lack of versatility when it comes to acting, delivers a performance that reminds us that he’s still one of the best in the business when it comes to the art of subtlety acting. Admittedly, the Clooney we see here may not be different from the Clooney we see in films like Michael Clayton (2007) or Up in the Air (2009), but he is near perfect in portraying a man caught up in life's myriad of problems, yet retaining an admirable sense of composure and confidence to turn things around.

Payne's screenplay is a class act. It manages to be scathing, touching, and comedic at the same time as it successfully taps on the different facets of the human emotion. For most parts, the drama is restrained, though the sharp dialogue, the tranquil nature of its Hawaiian setting, and music that is specific to the region give the film a unique sense of flow and rhythm. The entire film feels like a nuanced meditation on life’s unpredictability, yet it allows us to embrace the fact that it is this unpredictability that connects all of humanity. 

Verdict: Payne understands human comedy for all of its worth, giving us a film of remarkable wit, grace, and subtlety.

GRADE: A-

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