Thursday, December 29, 2011


Movie Review : The Descendants
Director : Alexander Payne
Genre : Drama / Comedy
Starring : George Clooney, Shailene Woodley
Released : November 2011
My Rating : 7 out of 10

With only a few movies, Alexander Payne just might have established himself as a sincere artist. His Sideways is widely loved, and he was also the producer of "The Savages", which I liked. The genre of Drama/Comedy applies perfectly to his movies, with the focus of presentation on underplay and subtlety.

His latest movie, The Descendants, will be a candidate for many 2012 Oscars, with both George Clooney and Shailene Woodley having a good chance to win in their categories. Even with strong Oscar / Golden Globe nominations, the real question is always, should you watch the movie ? Hopefully, my reviews help you decide that.

As the movie opens, we learn that Matt King (George Clooney) is a successful lawyer, whose very large and extended Hawaiian family has inherited a substantial fortune. Unfortunately, his wife is in coma due to an accident, and the prognosis is not good. He has never been really there to perform his parental responsibilities - he calls himself a "backup parent". Now he finds himself in a situation where he has to rebuild the relationship with his kids, inform all the relatives about the doctor' decision to pull the plug on his wife, handle the legalities of inheritance - all at the same time. To make matters worse, he finds out that his wife was having an affair and was about to divorce him.

To say that this is an unpleasant situation would be a gross understatement. This particular storyline poses numerous challenges for the writer, director and the actors. It can get overly emotional. Any attempt to infuse humor might show disrespect to the serious issues faced by the characters. I think the movie keeps the right balance between all these elements, thanks to superb direction and absolutely great acting.

I am quite certain that George Clooney will be nominated for Oscar. It is a great performance, no doubt. In contrast to his usual role of a suave, confident man, this role requires him to play a middle-aged man with slouching shoulders and a tired gait. I was very impressed with his performance.

But more than him, I was completely won over by Shailene Woodley's performance. If casting George Clooney for this role was a surprise, the character of his teenaged daughter is completely anti-stereo typical. She is not the careless, disrespectful teenager often found in movies. She is bitter, but because she saw her mother cheating on her father. In her own strong-headed style, she supports her father all through out the movie. Shailene Woodley's acting is so real, that you might forget she is playing a character. I am looking forward to her future movies.

So in spite of this, why only 7 out of 10 ? That's where subjectivity comes into play. I thought the movie was unnecessarily slow, to a point where many viewers may just give up on the movie. As a parent, I also found a few of the dialogues/scenes involving the younger daughter quite uncomfortable. Removing them wouldn't have done any harm to the overall effect of the movie.

If you are OK with slow movies, it's definitely worth watching. My wife was quite bored by this movie, but I liked it. It's definitely not for the kids, although I doubt if any kid/teenager would have even the slightest interest in watching this movie.

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