Thursday, December 15

The Coda Presents: The Descendants Review

The Descendants
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley,
and Amara Miller

There is a thin line between humor and heartbreak, and The Descendants walks the line beautifully. Alexander Payne has proven his prowess for taking emotional journeys, specifically those concerning men, and delving deep into the nature of feeling and human imperfection. Much has been said about George Clooney’s performance, and I assure you, it is every bit as impressive as you’ve heard. Clooney embodies emotion with a quiet confidence, playing on the subtleties of his characters’ flaws and misgivings. The supporting cast is also terrific, especially the young actors, adding an element of authenticity to the emotional roller coaster they are experiencing. The Descendants isn’t just a study of emotion, though that fact has been mentioned repeatedly already, it’s also a pitch perfect comedy. Many of the funny moments implement target comedic timing that works to lighten the emotional load of a particular scene, but also, and uniquely, will make you question whether it’s appropriate to laugh, which I assure you is beyond restraint.

 You know that moment when the atmosphere in a room takes that all too serious, uncomfortable tone and someone breaks the silence with that perfectly placed joke that lightens the mood? Well, that’s what The Descendants does thoroughly well. When tragedy takes over the lives of a family living in Hawaii, Matt King (Clooney) must deal with his family, both close and distant, in ways that force him to come to the realization of his own role as a husband and father. Payne does a great job of making the performances accommodate the underlying themes of the film. The restrained performances from the supporting cast, such as Robert Forster playing the grieving father or Beau Bridges as the self-indulgent cousin, add a depth and individuality to the story that otherwise might not shine through in less capable hands. The comedic components offer a situational satire that is complimentary to the heavy handed emotional elements, such as Clooney running disillusioned in boat shoes or a young man getting cold clocked by a senior citizen, it still feels unique and real. And, in a film that revolves around the topical component of death and dying, comedy walks a fine border of funny and distasteful.

The Descendants is not without its’ flaws, the story feels a bit disjointed at times and though it revels in melodrama the structure is predictable. However, many of those flaws also lend well to the imperfection being portrayed by the characters. The Descendants is a film about breaking and healing, the journey of a family discovering a life both old and new. It’s a moving and funny story, a demonstration of the imperfection in all of us, but also the compassion and grace that can be found when are forced to look. 
Monte's Rating....4.25 out of 5.00

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