Movie Review: The Descendants

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. And by that, I don’t just mean its Christmastime – it’s also holiday movie season. Which, of course, really means it’s Oscar-bait movie season. I think this is the best time of the year if you’re a movie lover, and accordingly there are many films on my own must-see list (to name a few: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, My Week with Marilyn, We Bought a Zoo, War Horse, Carnage, and the Iron Lady). Also on the list, and now checked off: the Descendants.

In the Descendants, Matt King (George Clooney) deals with two big problems: first, his wife (who we subsequently learn has been cheating on him) is in a serious accident and is about to be taken off life support; second, he’s the trustee for his family’s land, and they must decide what to do with the land before the trust dissolves.

What impressed me most about the movie was that it struck a difficult balance: it was sad, but also had truly funny moments throughout. There were so many great scenes that were a mixture of the really sad with the unexpectedly humorous: Matt and his daughter cornering the man with whom his wife was having an affair, the scene where the cranky grandfather punches Sid (and really any scene involving Sid saying something completely inappropriate in the midst of tragedy), and the scene where Judy Greer says she forgives Matt’s wife – over and over, becoming increasingly hysterical – and then Matt says “that’s enough” (this last scene is a particularly great example of how the movie handles a scene that’s both super emotional and yet oddly funny).

I also loved this cast. First, George Clooney. Lately, it seems he can do no wrong as far as picking roles that suit him. He was solid in Ides of March, but he’s outstanding in this movie. I thought he had a great range here – he displayed nice comedic timing, but he showed his ability to pull off the emotional moments too. I also found it funny that he’s always so handsome and dapper in real life, but he looked perfectly believable in schlubby island-wear in this film.

As for the rest of the cast – both daughters were perfect. I IMDB-ed her, and couldn’t believe that the younger one hasn’t acted in anything before. That’s some serious natural talent. And Shailene Woodley, playing the older daughter, was great too. I thought she was the best in the pool scene where she learns that her mother will die – such a spot-on reaction.

I also have to mention Judy Greer, who I would argue is the best modern-day character actress. She is the sidekick in a million movies (and in Arrested Development!) and always kills it. In this movie, she also got to show off some dramatic range, which I thought she did quite well. Her husband was played by Matthew Lillard, and to that I say – where have you been for the last decade, Matthew Lillard? Welcome back.

One final thing about this movie – it turned out to be surprisingly relevant to my life right now. Early in the film, Clooney’s character mentions that his family must sell their land because of the Rule Against Perpetuities. That’s something we’ve been studying all semester in property, and it never fails to give me a headache. So, while I really liked the Descendants, I was not too happy that the movie also reminded me that I probably should’ve been studying for property and not going to the movies. Sigh.

My grade: A

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2 thoughts on “Movie Review: The Descendants

  1. Clooney and everybody else included is great but it’s really Payne who shines as the writer bringing out some funny humor but not without forgetting about the real rich moments of human drama. Good review. A good film but not as great as I was expecting.

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