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6/10
It feels good but really doesn't say or do anything terribly new or special
secondtake20 March 2012
The Descendants (2011)

Wow, lots of great sharp close-ups of George Clooney. And a wonderful place to set a movie, contemporary Hawaii, not just the surf and nature scene, but the reality, too, of family and people interacting casually.

There's a forced plot here, a do good situation where some precious Hawaiian land is in danger of being developed, and you know almost from the first minute it's mentioned what the outcome will be. There's a second plot, too, which is more intense, having to do with an affair that gets uncovered and Clooney's sense of discovery and retribution for it.

But what is supposed to be the main point of the movie, in terms of emotional intensity at least, is the trickiest and maybe the thinnest: Clooney's wife is in a coma and is set to have her life support unplugged and then shortly die. His two daughters are supposed to be mischief makers of the worst sort (unconvincingly) and the drama of the oncoming death and the affair discovered during the midst of it all makes the father and daughters reconsider each other.

Sounds good but it only goes so far. Which is to say it's not a bad movie at all, just nothing that rises above. The one mention during, say, Academy Awards month was that Clooney's performance was standout. And it was, though not any more than other Clooney performances, restrained and consummately professional the same way Tom Hanks is. Which is often just a hair short of the breathtaking stuff others pull off at their best.

The best part of the movie is probably just the relative accuracy of the local Hawaiian culture, relaxed and appreciative but also caught up in the usual material and family concerns of any other U.S. locale.
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9/10
One of 2011's best
Dan Franzen (dfranzen70)11 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The Descendants is not a movie that's easily defined. In the macro view, it's about a man grieving for his wife, who lies in a coma from which she may never emerge, while simultaneously attempting to care for his two rambunctious daughters, each of whom is nearly alien to the workaholic man. But don't hastily dismiss this as a tearjerker about some guy coming to grips with mortality and/or learning a little something about himself along the way. This is a movie that runs the gamut of emotions, with pristine sincerity, grace, dignity, and rich realism.

Matt King (George Clooney) is the workaholic, a lawyer who lives in Hawaii. He has a good life - at least until his thrill-seeking wife suffers a serious head injury during a powerboat race, placing her in a deep coma. Matt's orderly life is no more. He must not only deal with the fact that he may never speak with his wife again, he must also learn an entirely new way of life - one with a domestic tinge. As wife Elizabeth's condition deteriorates, Matt must also deal with family and friends and open doors he never knew existed. All right, that's sort of cryptic, so let me give you this tidbit that is in no way a secret in the plot - Elizabeth, Matt shortly discovers, was having an affair at the time of her accident.

On top of all of that stress and drama, Matt is the sole trustee of a huge plot of land that has been a part of his family for a very, very long time. He and his cousins have decided to field offers for the land, because the trust becomes dissolved in seven short years. Should they sell to the highest bidder or to a local businessman? Either outcome would leave all of them very rich indeed. The sale of the land will make a huge impact on the island, as it could transform what many see as a beautiful, nearly untouched mark of beauty into a symbol of avarice and decadence.

The core of the entire story is Clooney's unbelievably terrific performance; he is vulnerable, strong, confused, decisive, anguished, angry. It's not every actor who can pull off such a wide range of expression, and Clooney is so effective in this movie that you sincerely feel as if you are standing directly in his shoes, seeing all from his perspective rather than just through his eyes. To say that Clooney's Matt is troubled is an understatement, but what makes this performance so remarkable to me is that at no time does he have all of the answers, and at no time does he have no answers at all. He is, to put it another way, us.

The tremendous amount of pressure under which Matt finds himself is exacerbated by his daughters' behavior; partly their reaction to their mother's plight but also because, well, they're precocious and self- absorbed, as most kids are when they're teens or preteens. Add in Matt's cluelessness about how to take care of girls; then you have a real recipe for a wacky sitcom, don't you? Only here it's as real as it gets. First there's 10 year old Scotti (newcomer Amara Miller), who acts out in class - including bringing in pictures of her comatose mother for show and tell. Scotti seems like a girl who just hasn't had enough of a male influence in her short life; you get the impression that Mom was the one who took care of the kids while Dad worked and worked. As a result, Scotti is combining typical rebellious behavior with confusion on how she should feel about her mother's being in a coma. Then there's Alexandra, currently away at boarding school; for her, you get the clear impression that she's a real problem child who's used to being shunted from school to school, like a queen of diamonds in a marked-up deck. She's away when the accident occurs; Matt retrieves her (discovering she's as wild as always) and necessarily leans on her to help him deal with his various problems.

Rest assured, there are moments that will jerk tears from you. However, director Alexander Payne does an amazing job of keeping everything level. This isn't a four-hankie movie, because life isn't a four-hankie movie. Life has its terrible moments and its joyous ones, too, and this film emulates that layer of authenticity to really deliver an emotionally powerful, provocative, and endearing story.

This isn't a movie you can just grab the kids and some popcorn and be lightly entertained, but it's also not a Think Hard movie. It's somewhere in the middle - again, much like life. Payne and cowriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash allow us to become psychologically engaged with everything concerning Matt and his family. We're with him so much that when he makes a blunder, we think to ourselves that we'd probably make the same blunder. It's a pleasure to see a movie in which the protagonist clearly doesn't have all of the answers, even to the easy questions, but has some answers to the hard ones. And that's why this is a hard movie to pigeonhole, and it's also why it's such a beautiful, artful film.
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7/10
Was honestly expecting more
tiger jack14 January 2012
This is a great movie, no doubt about it. But given the combination of golden globe, Oscar buzz and positive feedback on IMDb, I expected much more.

The story and the premise of the movie is perfect. In fact, the tagline caught my attention enormously: "trying to reconnect with daughters." That is exactly the type of movie I like. Instantly, I could tell this was a movie about character development and human connection, usually the type of movies with the greatest potential.

Unfortunately, it was merely decent, but not special. It felt like the movie built up so much potential, but failed to release it at a certain point during the movie. The whole movie, for me, felt too introductory in nature. Not necessarily the plot, because the plot does evolve, but the overall "feel" of the movie felt preliminary to a bigger and more dramatic event which never happened.

It's not easy to explain my feelings towards the movie because the fault wasn't necessarily technical or specific. But it did linger around and distracted my viewing somewhat. I felt like there was still more to explore in both Clooney's character and the character of his daughters. Also, I think this element alone impacted on Clooney's performance. His performance was good, definitely, but again, because I felt like there was more to be explored, naturally, I also felt like his performance could have been added to (but not necessarily improved).

Given the Oscar buzz of this movie, I have to compare it to other movies of a similar nature. And unfortunately, I didn't feel like there was sufficient connection between the characters...although the potential to reach that connection was established, it was not acted upon in my opinion. Unfortunately I have to say there have been better developed "re-establishing connection" movies.

In summary, this is an enjoyable movie, but it is missing some important elements which deteriorates the viewing experience to some extent.
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9/10
The Descendants is an outstanding and touching drama
CaptMTS12 December 2011
The Descendants is a tragic and heartfelt family drama set against a backdrop of the sights and sounds of modern Hawaii. The music is wonderful, and the scenery of several Hawaiian islands is amazing.

George Clooney is outstanding as the father of a family torn apart by tragedy. His character deals with unsettling secrets of his dying wife and his broken relationships with his two troubled daughters. Forced to deal with the consequences of neglecting his family, Clooney does a great job capturing conflicting and powerful emotions.

Shailone Woodley does a wonderful job as the rebellious older daughter, who captures the anger and hurt of a teenager betrayed by her mother and abandoned by her father. Her relationship with her father is the heart of the movie, and they slowly learn to rely on each other for support and strength in dealing with the loss of their mother/wife.

The film has a wonderful supporting cast that adds humanity and heart to the tragic story. Nick Krause stands out as the oldest daughter's friend, who adds a touch of laughter and perspective to the film. His open and carefree personality grates on the characters initially but helps them to eventually gain perspective on the tragic events.

Overall, the Descendants was an excellent movie that captures the raw emotions of a family dealing with betrayal, pain, and loss and learning to draw together for love and support.
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1/10
formulaic, run of the mill crap
Trudy Jones20 July 2012
I guess someone thought it to be a good idea to latch on the Clooney's far more entertaining project 'Up in the Air' and copy the whole enchilada onto a different story and cash in. Well, it's not going to work.

The story is completely unconvincing and feels designed by computer software. Much like your every day-time soap, if those things are still running. I wouldn't know really since I tossed my TV out of my house years ago. The performances feel like the plastic used to wrap microwave dinners and that is exactly what this film amounts to. A cheap, run of the mill pathos seeking ordeal that will leave you scratching your cranium as to why people are so incredibly undemanding when it comes to this type of entertainment, given its current rating.

I really don't know what to say else. The banality and obvious shortcomings of the movie kinda stumps me as I try to think of more ways to describe its rather obvious inferiority.

It should speak for itself, but apparently doesn't.
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2/10
Emotionally hollow and, even worse, boring
pedestrian023 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was a bust. The premise is simple—unbelievably simple, given the length of the movie: a man's wife goes into a coma as the result of a boating accident and he learns, via one of his daughters, that she was having an affair. There's more to it, of course, but nothing interesting: e.g., Clooney in voice-over tells us he's "the back up parent," so we see a few scenes of him failing at being "Mr. Mom" and a few scenes of him fighting with his eldest daughter. Yet, remarkably, a half-hour into the movie the entire family is getting along so well that they all troop off to a different Hawaiian island in search of the mystery man Mom was having the affair with, with the oldest daughter even playing a lead detective role.

What unfolds is hour upon hour of the family walking on beaches, driving down roads, etc., all of which culminates in a kitchen scene where Clooney confronts the man, played by Matt Lillard, about the affair. Lillard, whose acting has not deepened from his Scooby-Doo days, ensures that the scene has no dramatic impact. Then it's back to the hospital to watch Mom die.

The script is unbelievably flat-footed; its idea of humor is having children shout profanity at each other. (I'm no prude—-but I'm not 12, either.) There's even an odd disconnect to the more "dramatic" scenes. Because we've never seen anyone interact with Mom—she's just a corpse, lying there—we have no way of judging the believability of anyone's reaction to her death. We're simply bludgeoned by the musical score into accepting that any given scene is sad. The movie operates on a simple syllogism: the characters are crying, so you should too.

Still, judging by the audience's reaction, this movie will be a major success. I'm enough of an adult to admit when I'm odd-man-out. At each curse word, the audience roared with laughter; for each tear-jerker scene, the waterworks flowed. The Hawaiian landscape is beautifully shot, and the Hawaiian music is lovely, too. Unfortunately, I didn't pay $9.50 for a travelogue.
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9/10
A movie that you do NOT want to end...
bmennen18 November 2011
The director of this movie, Alexander Payne, was the guy who made "Sideways." This is a very different movie in that it focuses on family relationships rather than those between friends and lovers. But, Payne displays--in this touching and very real movie--the same incredible talent for doing two things better than almost every other movie maker (at least as far as I'm concerned): 1) he brings the viewer into the geography and milieu of the time and place in a gritty way that clearly presents the natural beauty of the area without over-romanticizing it and 2) he fits the characters into this environment and achieves a reality for these people that transcends the 2-dimensional characters that populate the multiplexes. You really care about these people.

Another similarity between the characters in "Sideways" and this movie is that the protagonists are, in at least one important way, lost. They both are also honest with themselves.

And thank God Payne did not use an orchestra for the soundtrack that would foreshadow and punctuate the scenes telling us how our emotions should run...I will not tell you what the soundtrack is, other than to say it's perfect.

This is not a comedy though there are a few laugh lines. Clooney will get the Oscar for this...how can he not? He is in every scene, and I cannot imagine him being better. And Shailene Woodley plays his older daughter: just amazing. A beautifully realized character.

I tried carefully here to give nothing away but to encourage you to see this as soon as you can. Brilliant.
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9/10
Payne knows exactly what he's doing, and what he's doing is tremendous.
Ryan_MYeah18 January 2012
Alexander Payne hasn't made a film from the director's chair since his incredible Sideways back in 2004. Seven years later, he finally returns, and with The Descendants, he returns with a bang.

Like Sideways, his screenplay (co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) nails the tone right on the head. It has to balance out three tricky narratives in the film (Matt King's self-crisis, his comatose wife's affair with another man before her boating accident, and a land deal he's reported to make), and without the proper guidance it needed, along with Payne's own confidant direction, it could have faltered. Thankfully, it balances out heavy themes and complicated emotions in uncommon detail.

The characters in this movie are many, complicated, and sorrowful in their own unique ways. Matt King was a perfect role for George Clooney. He keeps his composure, but we can still see a very heavy, filtered sorrow beneath the surface. Shailene Woodley's character (Woodley, by the way, gives one of the year's best performances) begins with a rebellious, even angry sadness, but we can see her develop over the course of the film, gaining a strong maturity beyond her years. Judy Greer and Robert Forster are each given a few spare scenes, and they make every second of their screen time count.

It really is an emotional ride, even depressing sometimes, but I'm surprised by the occasional review I read where critics say they didn't feel the emotion to be sincere. In my opinion, the emotions of the film never hit a single false note. I don't think just anybody could have made this movie the way it is. This isn't a typical drama, the movie's genre is Payne, and he knows exactly what he's doing.

***1/2 out of ****
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10/10
From a person who's lived through it....
MichaelMontoya251713 February 2012
This movie is one of the best movies I've seen in a while, and that's judging it from what it is. I became a fan of A P after watching Sideways and ended up reading the book before watching the movie. I think the biggest problem people have with this movie is that it's not the typical "HOLLYWOOD" movie that forces "emotion" down our throat nor is it the typical "INDIE" film with shaky cameras, far out one shots and so on. It's simple, a bit plain, and raw. We're presented with characters that may not seem interesting at first look, but when it comes down to it, AP has once again showed us a reflection of ourselves and people we know around us. We're normal. We're not all flashy people with cool lives and have interesting personalities. Some people just ARE and live that way. I recently lost the person who would have been my mother in law. I'm twenty four, and my girlfriend is twenty two, and her little sister is fourteen. My girlfriend has recently taken custody over her sister, and with their father passing away before the little sister was born, I've found myself in a bit of a father role and it's scary and new and very strange at times. I completely related to Clooney's character right away, and could feel the frustration he felt, and the emotions he felt. I think he did well with dealing with them. It felt real to me. In fact, everyone's emotions toward the tragedy the film presents felt very real. I saw those same reactions from sisters, aunties, uncles, grandfathers and grandmothers. Some blamed others while others completely lost it. Some felt mad, while others just cried and broke down. Some were oblivious to the news(like the grand mother in the movie) while others were simply there to comfort(Sid). I really appreciated the entire movie, scenery, and dialogue(and at times lack there of). I really enjoyed the frustration they felt one minute, the humor the next, and the forgetfulness of the tragedy at times. It was like seeing a movie based on what my girlfriend and I were going through, and it felt comforting that someone had captured that so well. Not every tragedy will be filled with a room full of criers. Some might. Not all we be filled with humor and relief. Some will. For us, it was everything. It didn't seem real, and at times, it seemed dull. This movie has a special way of presenting itself in that manner and I really liked it. I'm sure not everyone will like. Either they're use to super hero action movies, horror movies, or stuff like Twilight. Maybe you are into good dramas and indie flicks and for whatever reason you didn't connect with that one. For me, a person who's just lived through it and am discovering to be a dad type to someone I'm still getting to know…it was simple, perfect.

10/10
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Competent all around, arguably a winning product for 2011
Samiam319 November 2011
I hadn't seen so many elderly folks in a movie theatre, since I saw The King's Speech last year. I suppose there is a bit of irony in considering that a film called the Descendants has an audience of ancestors.

The best thing about the movie however, is that I think it can be appreciated greatly by any adult age group, elder or not. There are laughs to be had and tears to be shed. The film centres around middle aged, Matt King; a Hawaiian land baron attempting to connect with his children with the knowledge that his comatose wife is at death's doorstep, and he knows that she had an affair before her accident. Meanwhile, he is under pressure from his network of cousins to sell his inherited land to the kind of real estate that wants to put up a seaside condo-mania.

In essence, it's a recovery story. The formula is not entirely 'new' yet the somewhat paradoxical balance of refinement and dry humour are enough to elevate this to a very well rounded story. As far as drama comedies go, The Descendants is ideal.

This may be George Clooney's best lead performance to date. I think it is the first role that doesn't require him to be slick or charismatic even for a moment. He is rather scruffy, but more importantly, he is human. Clooney brings range to the role, hitting all the right notes, funny and serious alike.

I like the fact that even though we are on Hawaii (a photographer's paradise) the island doesn't look all that special. It's important that The islands look just as mundane to the audience as it would to the characters who inhabitant it. Most of the time it's cloudy, and low brow, except for the few moments where it is necessary to bring out the sunshine, as we stand on a cliffs edge with the King family overlooking dozens of acres of land which could very soon become merchandise.

Another thing I like about the Descendents (which you don't see often) is an ending that is both happy and sad. Some say that great films are the ones that leave you wanting more. The Descendants did this to me, and it's probably the closest thing to a great film I've seen this year.
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