20 February 2018 | TheLittleSongbird
Family tragedy in Hawaii
With the promising cast, an interesting subject matter, the substantial awards attention, the critical acclaim and being familiar with and highly appreciating much of Alexander Payne's work (especially 'Sideways', his recent film 'Downsizing' is an exeption), interest in seeing 'The Descendants' was high.
On the most part, after finally seeing it, 'The Descendants' delivers. It's not perfect and it doesn't quite make it in my list of my favourite films of 2011. It's not Payne's best or my favourite of his, as indicated already that's 'Sideways' while also loving 'About Schmidt' and 'Election'. Its many good points however are outstanding and far outweigh the issues, making it a very good film and almost (but not quite) great one. Considering though that it had all the ingredients to be great, that it wasn't quite gave a slight air of disappointment.
'The Descendants' may not say much new or deep, for a film with heavy and complicated themes this will disappoint some, part of me thought in places things could have gone into more detail.
A few parts came over as being too convenient in occurrence and resolution. Perhaps there could have been less narration, which actually isn't that irritating or over-used but the film would have worked without it.
However, 'The Descendants' is gorgeously shot, making the most of and clearly loving the picturesque Hawaiian locations and landscapes that makes one want to book a holiday there immediately. The use of traditional Hawaiian music on the soundtrack gave the film authenticity and added a lot to the mood of the story, especially in the more melancholic elements that are enhanced by it. Payne directs with his usual wit and warmth.
Payne's script is a large part of 'The Descendants' success. There is a lot of poignant pathos that does give enough depth to the melancholic element of the story, but it is balanced beautifully with a sincere honesty, thoughtfulness, glowing warmth and humorous comic elements.
Admittedly the story is deliberate and it's not the most insightful or breaking-new-ground there is, but the sympathetic tackling of the heavy and complicated personal themes really strikes an emotional chord and the warmth and gentle tone make it interesting. The characters are written well and the father and daughter relationship has a lot of heart and one of the film's biggest strengths.
George Clooney gives one of his finest performances in a challenging role that he brings a lot of layers to. The performance of Shailene Woodley is similarly among the year's best yet criminally overlooked, a very heartfelt, engaging and beyond her years turn. The rest of the cast are just as affecting (particularly Judy Greer and Beau Bridges), while there's welcome levity from Nick Krause, as one of the more rounded supporting characters, and a surprisingly good Matthew Lillard (was expecting him to jar seeing as he tends to play goofballs yet here in a less likeable role in a gentle drama).
Overall, very good and could have been great with just a few tweaks. 8/10 Bethany Cox