The Descendants puts George Clooney in the Oscar race

Screenwriter and director Alexander Payne is known for his real life approach to cinema, where sadness and humor mingle to create bittersweet dramedies, with drama often outweighing the comedy.  Sideways and About Schmidt established Payne as one of Hollywood’s most interesting satire writer/directors, a territory perhaps previously occupied solely by the Coen brothers.

The director’s latest, The Descendants, is a bubbly venture on family affairs, starring George Clooney in his best role yet.  The movie tells the story of Matt King (an outstanding Clooney), a lawyer, a father of two pepper-and-spice daughters (played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller), and the trustee to 25 000 acres of paradise on the island of Kaua’i.  His 17 year-old daughter, Alex (Woodley, The Secret Life of the American Teenager) is your typical foul-mouthed teenage girl, who uses cuss words to punctuate her sentences, and her parents’ issues to punctuate her bad behaviour at boarding school.  And 10 year-old Scottie (Miller) is a sass pot who knows what showing the finger means and the best occasions to use it.  There is trouble in paradise when their mother, Elizabeth (a brave performance by Patricia Hastie), suffers a boating accident, leaving her comatose.  Matt finds himself in the middle of a family crisis, further shaken by his greedy cousins who want to sell the land he has inherited to build hotels. Not only that, but he learns from Alex that his wife was cheating on him before the accident happened, and goes on a quest to find the man (Matthew Lillard).

The Descendants is a dramedy of extreme situations handled with smart humour and genuine feeling. The casting could not be more perfect, and even the quietest role, that of Elizabeth King, is played by Patricia Hastie in a way that her presence is felt throughout the entire film, even in the scenes that do not take place at the hospital.  Her character is the pivotal tip of the movie, and everyone else just tiptoes around this image of the mother/wife/daughter/lover.  Clooney is at his best, as the character he is least likely to become in real life: a father.  As Matt King, he is a Steve Carrel kind of dad (think Dan in Real Life) but with Cary Grant’s looks, and, well, George Clooney’s bravado. He is, in every second of the movie, Matt King – a heartbroken, angry, caring dad who is just trying to keep his head above the water. Being the self-proclaimed “backup parent,” Matt is forced to adapt to being the parent, and he learns that it is not an easy job to do. Clooney’s performance culminates in the scene when Matt parts with his wife Elizabeth, just before she is unplugged from life support, “my love, my pain, my friend.” Shailene Woodley also delivers as his firecracker teenage daughter, by being both extremely arrogant and terribly heartbreaking.  She and Clooney make a great team for the Oscar race. Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard (remember Scooby-Doo?) also co-star. It is this year’s best ensemble cast so far.

The Descendants is a stripped down, raw portrayal of a family in crisis, that takes place, ironically, at a backdrop usually reserved for happy surfer movies. The tragedy of the dying mother is not cried over, there are literally only two tears rolling down a pair of cheeks in the entire film.  Instead of putting the rosy, tear-bleared glasses on us, Payne pours whiskey in the family wounds and stirs so that they are fully exposed.  And the result is magnificent.


By Radina Papukchieva
Follow me on twitter @Papukchieva


About Radina Papukchieva

Radina Papukchieva came to live in, be consumed by, and love Montreal in 2003 from Bulgaria, with her mother and little sister. She is still a semester away from graduating from Concordia University, where she is doing a double major in journalism and communication and cultural studies, as well as a minor in film studies. Her interests include film, TV, and popular culture. And Woody Allen. She is a film writer for and co-creator of The Cafe Phenomenon. Her list of inspirational people includes Tina Fey, primarily. Among her other interests are music, art, literature, and of course, food. Her film reviews have appeared in The Concordian and The Mirror.

4 responses »

  1. CMrok93 says:

    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.

  2. Your site is Great thank you for your info it was a pleasure .

  3. It s about honestly accepting and forgive the jargon, but embracing who we really are.

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