The Descendants (Fox Searchlight Pictures, R)

descendents 75The cast is uniformly good. Just about everything in the movie is good. Not much is great.


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There are many movies about people coping with the loss of a loved one. The interesting twist of The Descendants is that the loved one in question leaves behind quite a mess, and the other characters have to change the way they see their relationship. George Clooney plays a powerful Hawaiian land baron whose wife Elizabeth is put on life support after a boating accident. In a cringe-worthy opening narration, Clooney says that prior to the accident they hadn’t spoken in three days, but “really, we hadn’t been speaking for months.” Their strained relationship is made worse when he learns that Elizabeth was having an affair with a young realtor. The doctors find that Elizabeth will not be coming out of her coma, and Clooney and his two daughters have to deal with the fact that she is about to be taken off life support.

This all sounds very heavy, but the film has a surprisingly light tone. It was directed by Alexander Payne, who made a name for himself with quirky little comedies like Election and Sideways. He does a good job here of finding a balance between comedy and tragedy. However, where his earlier films had a bite to them, here he plays it relatively safe, even though the subject matter is a bit more out there. I’m not saying it was the wrong choice. The film is very watchable, and would have been tougher if he had gone more for the gut. In my opinion, it also would have been more interesting.

George Clooney is one of the most reliable actors working today. I can’t say the last time he gave a performance that really blew me away, or felt different from other performances he’s given, but he is always good. The standout of this cast is Shailene Woodley, who plays Clooney’s oldest daughter. She is introduced as a typical “bad girl” who drinks, curses, and has questionable taste in men. However, she quickly becomes a more realized, interesting character. She becomes her father’s partner in some ways, taking care of her younger sister and sometimes acting as his conscience. It is a difficult role and she handles it very well.

The cast is uniformly good. Just about everything in the movie is good. Not much is great. I enjoyed my time watching it, but I found it almost immediately forgettable. If someone asked me how it was, I would say it was good. If someone asked me if they should see it, I would probably say yes. If someone asked me to recommend a movie to go see, I would not bring this one up, or at the very least, it would be low on my list. This is the dilemma. I’m sure it will be well received, and it will probably be discussed at Oscar time, and while I have no ill will toward the film, I can’t say that it will deserve these accolades. It’s just a good film. | Sean Lass

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