MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★
This is a film with a few really poignant moments but taken as a complete piece it wasn’t as engaging as it could have been. The film begins with the narration of George Clooney’s character, Matt, telling us that everyone thinks Hawaii is all surf boards and Alohas but really Hawaiin citizens are just normal people with normal problems like everyone else. I’m sure that’s true and I don’t think anyone really thought any differently. But strangely the film does little to dispel the stereotypes at least at an aesthetic level. It’s extremely slowly paced as the waves seem to wash over any hint at intensity. Everyone’s wearing flowery shirts and there are constant interludes of distinctly Hawaiin music. It certainly doesn’t shy away from its setting but let’s face it, with such stunning surroundings, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Matt is a very ordinary guy whose large family inherited a huge amount of incredibly valuable land. But Matt doesn’t flaunt his wealth and prefers to live conservatively. He has two daughters and their world is turned upside down when his wife suffers an accident in a motor boat leaving her in a permanent coma. Matt then makes the painful discovery that his wife was not faithful and coupled with a big decision regarding his extended family’s fortune whilst also caring for his kids who he struggles to connect with, he tries to keep his head above water.
The Descendants be picking up an awful lot of award nominations this season and whilst it is undoubtedly decent, extraordinary it is not. It makes for an interesting family drama with characters thrown into a confusing predicament, reminding me a little of 2010’s The Kids Are Alright without the same incredibly strong attachment I felt to all the characters in that brilliant little film. The central story involving Clooney’s emotional confusion is central to the movie and that’s certainly the most interesting aspect. I never really felt involved with Matt’s children, not helped by some confusing writing decisons such as how Matt was content allowing his older daughter’s idiot boyfriend to tag along to lots of important family meetings which ruined, the tone and realism.
Although I liked Clooney’s character and he seemed a thoroughly decent bloke something was blocking me from completely believing in him. The story of a wife and mother about to die is naturally a very emotive story, but I couldn’t help but feel some of the big emotional moments were as much about empathizing with that awful predicament than a real love for these characters. That’s not to say the film didn’t make me emotional, it succeeded far more successfully than most. It is beautifully shot and visually appealing but it just feels slightly distant stopping it from being the masterpiece it could have been.
The Descendants is out now in the UK. Running time 115 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).
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Review by David Rank