We have got to start giving George Clooney more credit. I think a lot of people are still thinking of him as the Ocean’s Eleven guy, the Perfect Storm guy, christ, maybe even the Batman & Robin guy. Personally, I have started to think of him as the Solaris guy. The Out of Sight guy. The Up in the Air guy. You know, that guy. That’s the one who is in The Descendants, a lawyer called Matt King who struggles to reconnect with two young daughters after their adventurous mother has a boating accident and winds up in a coma from which she will not recover. The daughters are played excellently by Shailene Woodley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) and Amanda Miller.
Director and co-writer Alexander Payne also wrote and directed Sideways, and that movie resonates here as well, especially when King packs the girls on a road trip that has a dual purpose: to see the family’s amazing parcel of land that may soon be sold, and to confront the real estate agent his wife had been seeing on the side. Much like Sideways, everyone is drawn in shades of gray with no clear hero or villain, and the core cast and strong supporting cast are more than up to the script they have been given. My only significant complaint is that there is a coincidence in the script that binds together the two main plot threads in a way that I did not really buy, and did not really even feel was necessary.
This movie is getting a lot of Oscar buzz, presumably due to the Clooney-Payne connection, and I guess it deserves it as much as any of the other contenders, but I don’t really see it as particularly groundbreaking or impressive; it’s a solid family drama with the unusual and beautiful backdrop and sensibilities of Hawaii. I appreciate that the cast did not chew scenery and the script is not emotionally manipulative. You want a film like this to feel real, or at least plausible, and it does.