Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Descendants

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause.
Director: Alexander Payne
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes
Rating: R

This may come as a shock to you all out there, but I don’t find George Clooney to be the heartthrob everyone else does. Ok, pick your jaw up off the keyboard! I’m more of a Leo woman, myself. Though I didn’t have any eye candy during the film, I actually really enjoyed Clooney’s performance as a troubled father in “The Descendants.” It was nice to see him in a role as a dad, one we haven’t really seen since “One Fine Day.” 

The film opens with exotic music and beautiful landscapes of Hawaii, but we soon see shots of traffic, poverty and dirty streets, reminding all of us on the mainland that it’s not all paradise and luaus over there. (Kudos to Dondi Bastone, music supervisor, for creating the next movie soundtrack I’ll buy.) Clooney plays Matt King, a father forced to re-connect with his daughters after his wife, Elizabeth, lands in an irreparable coma.  His daughter Scottie is 10 years old, and rebellious Alex (an awesome debut from Shailene Woodley) is 17. Woodley is a natural in this role as a disrespectful and unresponsive-to-authority teen who was sent away to boarding school. It’s unclear as to what caused Alex’s behavior until we learn more about her relationship with her mother, who was having an affair.

Though we don’t immediately bond with Alex, the most touching scene of the film is when her dad informs her that her mother won’t survive the coma. She is determined not to publicly cry, and instead sinks into the swimming pool. We see a beautiful yet heartbreaking shot of her sobbing underwater.

As if dealing with the loss of a wife/mother isn’t enough, Matt is determined to find the man who was fooling around with his wife. He does this first out of anger and curiosity, and then out of compassion: he wants this man to have the opportunity to say “good-bye” to Elizabeth before the doctors pull the plug. With the help of Alex’s stoner friend, Matt and his daughters set out to track down Elizabeth’s lover and discover a surprise. 

The “other man” is an unlikely candidate – but one of my favorite character actors from the 90s! Matthew Lilliard is a real estate agent with a family of his own, and is goofy and loveable, as always. We don’t hate him like we probably should. The stoner friend, Sid (Nick Krause, another terrific newcomer), provides the comic relief. At first he just seems like a nuisance, but in one scene he opens up to Matt about losing his father, and explains how Alex was such a source of comfort to him. It’s obvious now that he’s tagging along not because he wants to get in Alex’s pants, but because their friendship is essential to their coping with difficult situations.

Between getting grief from his father-in-law, and an underlying stressful business plan, we feel for Matt and his current situation. But by the end, it’s apparent that this curse was in fact a blessing. Matt learned how to be the star parent as opposed to the back-up parent. Unfortunately, I found Matt’s good-bye scene with Elizabeth a bit hokey. He bad-mouthed her throughout the entire film, and then he tears up and calls her his “best friend” and his “joy”? I don’t think so. 

The ending scene represents the new transition for everyone. We can assume Alex will not return to boarding school, as she ultimately found peace from this tragedy. Clooney should play in this sandbox more, and show his sensitive side, and maybe eventually I’ll fall in love with him like everyone else. 

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