The Descendants (2011) – You must feel sorry for rich people in paradise.
Note: this summary is all in the trailer. No spoilers from The Fat Man today. So…George Clooney plays Matt King, a wealthy land owner, lawyer, and the least Hawaiian looking member of his purely Hawaiian family… guess we can chalk that up to his mother. His wife has been in a terrible accident and cheated on him (perhaps in that order, based on the trailer), so Matt must gather up his unruly daughters and go on a wacky adventure looking for HIM and just trying to keep the family dynamic alive. It sounds a lot like Sideways, but with a change of scenery.
As a showcase of Hawaii, it was beautiful. The shots at sunset, the views over the green-crusted mountains, the ridiculously blue ocean – it’s more of Hawaii than I’ve ever seen in my life. I’d love to run off in to the hills and on the the perfectly white beaches. Beyond all the pretty was a story that made me feel less than inspired. I’m having trouble with the idea of medical-oriented storylines. It’s a familiar story we all know to some extent. We’ve been there watching someone die or wondering if they’ll get better. Hospitals can be a terrible, scary place and we write what we know. Earlier this year, 50/50 played the friend/cancer card and managed to rip a few tears from me. However in this case, it felt like a weird crutch for every emotional scene. Everyone was fine.. except when they talked explicitly about Matt’s wife. Every other moment was wacky, oblivious of the tragedy at hand. Since we write what we know, I know that when someone you care about is ill or dying, everything reminds you of them. Songs, colors, just driving to work can make you break down crying. It’s hard. You don’t just shrug it off.
I feel as though I’ve gotten a little abstract. Let me simplify and say write what you know, but be aware it can come of as a little cheap and forced. It takes some real talent to write familiar themes in to unfamiliar stories or to take familiar situations and approach them from a unique angle. The Descendants just didn’t feel like it did either of those – familiar situations, familiar reactions. I still stand by my view George Clooney is just George Clooney in every film. In the Ocean’s movies, Clooney is Clooney stealing things. In Burn After Reading, Clooney is Clooney building something odd in his basement, in The Perfect Storm, Clooney is Clooney yelling at a storm. I’ve just never seen any depth in characters from him. He’s really good at being Clooney, but if you want something else… well…don’t hire Nick Cage either.
I know I’ve been pretty critical, but this is a Best Picture nominee. It was an enjoyable movie, nice to look at, had a few laughs, but nothing like Sideways or any of the other nominees. I’m not sure why it’s even up there, to be honest.