Before every Academy Awards ceremony, I try and squeeze in as many nominated films so that I can look like a relatively informed person and say whether their nomination is justified.
The Descendants is the latest dramedy produced by award-winning director Alexander Payne, based on the same-name novel as Kaui Hemmings. The film follows troubled lawyer Matt King, played by George Clooney, trying to take care of his troubled daughters while his wife suddenly falls into a coma after a watersports accident.
Seeing Clooney is a moderately simpleton role is quite refreshing. Compared to his previous roles as a presidential candidate and a travelling-Jake-businessman type, his portrayal as a King seems relatively normal. Gone has the smirk and charm that tends to come across in his earlier roles; instead, we see a stability and quiet charisma that fits in with the everyday man making this his best performance to date. The scenes Clooney shares with his young co-star Shailene Woodley, playing his rebellious teenage daughter Alex, are great to watch as she shows a startling maturity to her role. From equally troubled to being the shoulder to cry on, Woodley is understated in her acclaim as the support Alex shows her father is to admired.
Director Payne uses the idea of ‘a normal life in paradise’ using the lush backdrop of Hawaii and relaxed lifestyles of its inhabitants to highlight the stress of King’s now-messed-up life. Like past offerings Sideways and About Schmidt, there is a balanced blend of laugh-out-loud moments (thanks to Alex’s stoner friend Sid and Matt’s youngest daughter Scottie) to more poignant scenes between King and his wife. There is, however, a somewhat abruptness that sours the ending of the film – we are left to assume the cliché that the family has come to terms of what has happened and with each other; surely we’ve past that point and need something more fitting to a film like this?
Overall, The Descendants is a lovely film with great performances from Clooney and Woodley. The thing that lets it down, besides its ambiguous ending, is the slow consistent pace that – unfortunately – goes in hand-in-hand with dramedies.