The Descendants (2011) – Film Review

Descendants_film_posterThe Descendants

Starring George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Beau Bridges

Directed by Alexander Payne, based on the novel ‘The Descendants‘ by Kaui Hart Hemmings

IMDB Rating: 7.4

Review written by Rachel Geiger

This funny and heartfelt film about family and the secrets that we manage to keep is visually stunning. It also has a small but great and memorable cast.

The film follows Matt (George Clooney) who is a lawyer based in Honolulu, Hawaii. He also owns 25,000 acres of land in Hawaii due to a family trust. Matt is being pressured to sell the land for a large sum of money because the trust expires in seven years. During all this, his wife gets in a boating accident and is in a coma. The lawyer is forced to set into the role of a more active father, looking after his seventeen-year old daughter who attends boarding school and has a history of substance abuse (Shailene Woodley) and his ten-year old daughter Scottie who bullies other kids for attention. Matt and his family go on an adventure in order to find the man his wife was having an affair with.

The plot is pretty creative and filled with intense but not cliché family drama. I think the strength comes from how well written the screenplay is. Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash won an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay and it’s not hard to see why. The story is really about bringing people together and family secrets bringing brought to life. The characters – especially the daughters, are well developed and natural. I like how Shailene Woodley’s character is so angsty but we also get some insight into why in particular she acts that way. Basically, it’s not just a teen acting out because “that’s just what teens do,” instead we get some backstory and perspective.

The acting is outstanding and every character seems to have so many layers to them that become gradually unraveled (besides Elizabeth but she’s in a coma the whole time) throughout the movie. George Clooney was nominated for an Oscar with this role. I didn’t really think it was anything out of the ordinary for him. He typically plays the roles of the clean-cut preppy (mostly rich) guy who can more than occasionally act like a jerk, but he’s still never the villain. However, I do think his emotion here was extremely incredible and honest. As I already hinted at, Shailene Woodley was amazing in this film. I was never sure of her acting ability from her first big role in The Secret Life Of The American Teenager, but this was really her breakout role that foreshadowed how amazing she’d be in her next films. Younger sister Scottie was comic relief but also had her serious and tearjerking moments which show how complex the young actress already is. Even the supporting performances by Beau Bridges and Judy Greer made sense and truly worked. Another great character is Alexandra’s boyfriend Sid who makes the movie less heavy and a little more hilarious.

There is no denying that Alexander Payne is such a beautiful director. The most common theme in his films is working with people and the complexity simply comes with human beings. Payne is very selective about what he directs, this is his first since Sideways which came out seven years ago. This selectiveness might be his strength, he’s making movies that he seems to be fully invested in and this comes out in his work. Another decision that was strong on his part was the whole filming in Hawaii element. It’s really neat to see the beauty of all the islands and I love the way he chose to display that.

This is a movie worth watching because of the creative plot, solid writing, beautiful scenery, developed characters, and great acting. The themes that are within this film are presented in such a way that it doesn’t come across as being overdone or cliché, it’s just unique and a really interesting watch. I’d definitely recommend this one!

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