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Movies: Splendid "Descendants"

 

At long last, we within driving distance of the Oxford Malco Theater, have now been deemed worthy enough to get to see “The Descendants.” The movie was actually released in November (so as to be eligible for Oscar) but even though it was considered a “wide” release, it only played in 876 theaters. In comparison, “The Grey,” which was the number one movie this past weekend, opened in nearly 4,000. So yeah, needless to say “The Descendants” didn’t exactly open in a theater near me back then.  Now that the movie has its Oscar nomination though, those of us plebes not fortunate enough to live in a big market finally get to see it.

I’ve been waiting about three months to see this thing and I wasn’t disappointed. A brilliant mix of family drama and dark comedy, “The Descendants” is everything a great movie should be.

George Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian lawyer whose struggles as a husband and a father come to a head when a boating accident renders his wife comatose with no chance of ever waking up.  We follow King along as he does his best to balance helping family and friends cope, becoming more than “the back-up parent” to his two daughters and dealing with the discovery that his wife had some dark secrets. 

Clooney really earns his Best Actor nomination here. It’s refreshing to see the Academy nominate someone who’s just playing a regular guy. Clooney plays King with a subtlety, making every word and facial expression count. He reminded me of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch; more quiet, more internal.

The rest of the cast is stellar across the board, particularly Shailene Woodley as King’s wayward daughter Alex. Woodley could have played the part as a total brat (frankly most movies would have gone this route) but Alex is sympathetic and likeable and becomes a woman over the course of the movie. Nick Krause is hilarious and oddly endearing as Alex’s less-airheaded-than-he-seems friend, Sid, who sort of becomes a surrogate member of the family.

The cast is rounded out by the likes of Robert Forster, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer. They all only have a couple of scenes but they all make their marks. This was the best thing about the movie: the characters. The characters (all of them) are well fleshed out, motivated and compelling. I wanted to continue with them long after the credits rolled.

Hawaii itself was also a character in the movie. The landscapes were stunning and colorful and the images leapt off the screen. In theory you could have set the story anywhere but having it in Hawaii really adds something and makes the whole thing work in a way that it probably wouldn’t have if it were set in Delaware. No offense to the good people of Delaware.  Just kidding, no one from Delaware reads this!

So, in the end, even if it doesn’t win any Oscars (it probably will) the filmmakers can take heart knowing they made pure excellence; a beautiful movie about knowing when to let go and when not to.