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Film Review: The Descendants

Dec 02, 2011 10:07AM ● By Wendy Sipple

George Clooney stars as Matt King, a man who is forced to deal with family life after his wife suffers a fatal injury in a boating accident. This includes taking a much larger parenting role with his two teenage daughters who are both going through their own challenges. In addition, King is the trustee of a wealthy family that is considering a multi-million dollar land deal that he alone has the deciding vote. If that wasn’t enough, King finds out that his wife was, in fact, cheating on him sending him on a search for the “other” man in his wife’s life.

Writer and director Alexander Payne is the master of movies featuring flawed but relatable characters. I absolutely loved his early work, Election and About Schmidt. Payne received awards for Sideways which was not as good as his other two films in my opinion, mainly because I felt the pace of Sideways was far too slow. If Sideways was a slow film then The Descendants barely crawls -- the pace of the film is at a snail’s pace from start to finish which is a shame because with tighter editing I think Alexander Payne could have made a good movie.

The performances in the movie are great across the board. George Clooney will get a lot of award consideration for his role I imagine, but I felt the breakthrough performance belonged to Shailene Woodley who was excellent as one of his troubled teenage daughters. Woodley not only shared the screen with Clooney in her first film, she clearly outperformed him, and that’s saying something.

The Descendants had several very moving and very real scenes which are trademarks of Payne's movies. His decision as a screenwriter in regard to his characters are brave and they ring true, because he never shies away from showing a character’s less than flattering moments. There’s no denying his strength is the ability to build characters. However the story got hung up on who the other man was, which completely derailed the real emotion of the story. In addition the path to get to the point was much too slow and far too uneventful. It does pay off in the end with a great scene between Judy Greer and Clooney, but getting to that last scene is a chore and it shouldn’t have been.

I also have to say the soundtrack of the movie certainly didn’t help the film. It played through emotional scenes that would have had more impact with a musical score that didn’t match the emotion. The Hawaiian theme may have been appropriate for some of the film, but it became too repetitious for it to play almost nonstop for two hours. Dondi Bastone, who served as music supervisor, was definitely out of his element as most of his experience has been in placing music on HBO’s late night programming.

I really want to recommend the movie as it does have its share of great moments. The Descendants just takes too long to get to the real story while the weaker sub plots dominate way too much screen time. The acting is quite strong and for those who can stomach a very slow paced movie might find a lot to like in this down-to-earth human drama. If your attention span is on the shorter side, though, you will squirm in your seat waiting for something to happen.

Films like The Descendants – Up in the Air, Sideways and About Schmidt

Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.

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