It was Christmas Day. We were in Orlando and decided to start a tradition of going to see a movie. At breakfast, we went around the table and asked everyone what would be their first choice. [pullquote]Julie and I chose Mission Impossible as we thought that our sons would want to see that one; however, surprisingly Josiah and Micah wanted to see The Descendants.[/pullquote] Julie and I chose Mission Impossible as we thought that our sons would want to see that one; however, surprisingly Josiah and Micah wanted to see The Descendants. I was good with that; I wanted to see it as well so we aimed for the 1:45pm showing. I was looking forward to seeing Alexander Payne’s latest as I had seen his other films, like Sideways and About Schmidt, which were well-done.
As the movie reached about thirty minutes in I knew two things:
- It would be the darling film of Hollywood and be in serious contention for the Golden Globe and Oscar (come on, it has Payne directing, Clooney in the lead, and integrated into the story line is a pro-environment theme);
- However, it was just a good film, but not a great one, and should not receive all of the adulation in January that it was going to receive.
As the film ended and we discussed it driving home, I more and more understood why I wasn’t thrilled with it.
Point one. Even though it was the writer and director’s intention, you couldn’t really sympathize with any of the characters. [pullquote]Point one. Even though it was the writer and director’s intention, you couldn’t really sympathize with any of the characters.[/pullquote] They are the typical upper-middle class privileged that have made a total mess of their lives and they don’t seem to have really changed much at all by the end of the film. I just couldn’t get vested in the lives of the characters on the screen.
I was shaking my head with that final scene when it showed Matt (played by George Clooney) and his daughters munching on popcorn while watching a movie. The final premise and intention of the film—now everything is going to be all right. What would have been a better ending? With that same voice over, watching Matt and his daughters discussing things in a counseling session with one another, digging at all of the problems between them.
The movie just ended way too simply and unrealistically for me. With the amount of bitterness that was in that family, simply having your wife/mom die does not solve any of the problems that have been festering for sixteen years. This is the great problem with many American films, oftentimes, they explain away troubling issues way too easily.
Point two. With some of the minor characters, the acting was simply bad and the writing sketchy. This was something pointed out to me by my seventeen year old son, who actually loved the movie.
Which were the scenes that come to mind? First, the scene in which Matt learns of the extra-marital affair of his wife from his brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Here, the writers took a very delicate subject and the actors over-acted the scene. You couldn’t tell if they were going to try to make the scene funny or serious. The other scene which caught me off guard was the one in which Julie Speer is confronting and yelling at the comatose Elizabeth (this isn’t giving anything away, but if you haven’t seen the film, Elizabeth had an affair with Julie’s husband). Granted that’s a hard scene to portray, but the actress Judy Greer did not do it justice. The scene fell flat and in the scene, I was glad Clooney’s character ended it fairly quickly.
[pullquote]A movie that should win the Golden Globe or Oscar should be flawless. The writing, the directing, the acting should all be impeccable.[/pullquote]A movie that should win the Golden Globe or Oscar should be flawless. The writing, the directing, the acting should all be impeccable. The Descendants was not that movie—it was a decent film, but it was not a great one. If you want to see a movie with a similar theme (i.e., broken characters trying to repair their lives) go see American Beauty or The English Patient, or the foreign films such as Burnt by the Sun or The Barbarian Invasions). These films did win the Oscar and were worthy of that award. With regard to the film, there was one exemplary feature to it. George Clooney put forth an amazing performance and I was glad that he won a Golden Globe. However, for the film, it should have been overlooked and the award should have gone to a more worthy film. I hope those who determine the Oscar don’t make the same mistake.
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Tags: About Schmidt, Alexander Payne, George Clooney, The Descendants