‘The Descendants’ Review: Paradise Lost
The Descendants is at times a very hard film to watch, yet it can also be very funny. The strange thing about these aspects of the film is that sometimes you will feel like you are laughing or getting emotional at the wrong thing. The film doesn’t hold your hand guiding you through itself telling you which emotions to feel. If I had to guess, every person who sees it will walk out of the theater with a different reaction to the events in the film. Some will be angry, some will be sad, and some will still be laughing.
A significant detail within the film is its setting, the beautiful islands of Hawaii. From the opening monologue we are told that Hawaii is not immune to the every day problems that places without palm trees have. It is a place just like any other and even though this is told to us, the filmmakers certainly handled it differently than any other place where this story could have taken place. The camera constantly focuses on the beauty of the islands and every character is dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and rarely wears shoes. Hawaii in itself becomes as much of a character as the entire human cast does.
Speaking of the cast, the performances here are terrific. I said this before in my Ides of March review and I will say it again, George Clooney is reaching a level where he has such a commanding screen presence that he can pretty much do the same thing in every movie and have it still be electrifying. You can expect an Oscar nomination for this role. Another standout performance comes from Shailene Woodley, who plays Clooney’s daughter. She gives the character so many layers and for having made not much of a name for herself until now she challenges Clooney for best performance in the film. The rest of the cast all give solid performances as well but pale in comparison to these two giants.
Another great thing about the film is the writing. Dialogue feels incredibly real and often leads to a few laughs. It also flows incredibly well and never feels boring. The genius comes from the fact that it is difficult to decide what is supposed to be funny. Not since last year’s fantastic The Kids Are All Right film walked a line so thin between comedy and drama without falling into either category.
Despite all these great things going for The Descendants I do have one issue. There is very little ambitious filmmaking going on here and as great as the film is i severely doubt that it will be remembered a year from now. The story, while well told, is familiar. The performances are great but there is no character that is especially memorable. Visually the cinematography and such are all acceptable but would be nothing special if it weren’t for the beautiful locations being shot. Sure, the film will rack up nominations come January and will probably even win a few, but next year this film will likely be forgotten.
However, that does not take away from the fact that The Descendants is an extremely well put together film. Clooney and Woodley’s performances should be recognized come awards season. It is a treat that most will find something to enjoy in even if it doesn’t go down as a classic. (***1/2 out of 4)