Sunday, January 29, 2012

30 Days of Oscar Day 5: The Descendents

Movie: The Descendents
Year: 2012
Nominations: Best Picture, Best Director - Alexander Payne, Best Actor - George Clooney, Film Editing (Kevin Tent), Adapted Screenplay (
Wins/Snubs: I'm guessing Clooney will win, but the others will go home empty handed.  Although based on other groups nominations, Editing has a good chance.  Also, if the Academy doesn't want to award Aaron Sorkin two years in a row for Moneyball, I could see this winning Adapted Screenplay as well.   As for snubs, now that I've seen it, I can get on the bandwagon for a Shailene Woodley nomination for supporting actress.  Personally, I'd trade her out for Jessica Chastain in The Help.  I think Chastain would deserve her nomination for Tree of Life but not The Help.  

There aren't a lot of movies that can stand up to a single-sentence description and rise above it, but The Descendants is one of the few.  The Descendants is the story of Matt King (Clooney), a man dealing with telling his loved ones about the impending death of his wife after finding out she was having an affair.  The movie is so much more than that.  I know Whitney (from Frankly, My Dear) hates it when a place is described as a character in a film, but Hawaii plays a particularly strong role in this film.  Matt is a lawyer who is the trustee of his family's land trust that is dissolving and selling off pristine land on Kauai.  The land has been in the family for more than a century and the concept of selling off paradise is examined throughout the film as strangers talk to Matt about his decision to sell.  This is horribly timing as Matt also has to deal with the unexpected and slow death of his wife from a boating accident.  She didn't want to be kept alive on machines, so the time has come and Matt wants to give friends and family the chance to say goodbye.  He has gone to the Big Island pick up his older daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) at private school and bring her home to help with his other daughter during this time.  She is the one who saw her mother having an affair and now knows it's time to tell her father.  His reaction is one of the best and most real moments of someone finding out about an affair I've ever seen.  He's obviously upset, but is balancing that with the idea that maybe it doesn't matter anymore, but he still wants to know.  This battle continues as he gets some details from Alex - then he runs out the door and runs (literally) to a friends house to get the rest of the details.  

The rest of the film plays out in unexpected ways - Matt is coming to grips with what he life actually was: his anger with his dying wife, the distance he has from his daughters, and the family legacy that he is guardian of for now.  I loved seeing them travel around Hawaii, from Oahu to the Big Island to Kauai and back.  It's a really gorgeous setting to put this unbelievably difficult story of lies and betrayal and family.  But the real winner is Clooney - he is in almost every scene of the film, and even though he's dressed in Hawaiian business dress (Hawaiian shirt and pants or shorts), he's really far from being "The Man in the Suit" he's done in the past.  There are no moments of acting with only his eyebrows or his "chin and grin".  He acts better than I've ever seen him with more authenticity than almost any actor has ever done.  

In addition to Shailene Woodley being Matt's best support during this crisis, there are some terrific supporting characters that only make an appearance for a scene or two - Beau Bridges as a cousin, Judy Greer in a non-comedic role, Robert Forster as Matt's father-in-law, and newcomer Nick Krause as "Sid", Alex's dopey friend who goes on this journey with them all.  Alexander Payne did a terrific job putting this film together and I know it won't leave the Oscar's empty handed this year.  5 of 5 stars/lambs


Dan O. said...

Clooney and everybody else included is great but it’s really Payne who shines as the writer bringing out some funny humor but not without forgetting about the real rich moments of human drama. Good review. A good film but not as great as I was expecting.

Buttercup said...

I think I saw it the week it came out, and hadn't read many reviews. It was better than I expected. But is Clooney better than Gary Oldman? They're both playing the husband betrayed.

Jess said...

Dan O - I think I had lower expectations, so it surpassed mine. I find much of what I give credit to is originality, and this definitely had that.

Buttercup - I haven't seen Oldman in this, but it would be a hard sell based on career performance.