Monday, December 12, 2011

'The Descendants' doesn't disappoint

Well, here's something you can't say every day. I saw a movie and it was almost as good as the book.

When we were in Hawaii back in the fall, I heard some buzz about an upcoming George Clooney picture called "The Descendants." It was filmed on Oahu and Kauai and was getting good marks for showing "the real" contemporary Hawaii.

I read the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings when we returned to the mainland and really enjoyed it. Hemmings writes in a fresh, 21st-century voice, and creates vividly realized characters. I remembered seeing the trailer for the film back in the summer and awaited it with some anticipation.

But, then, that old dreaded feeling crept into the back of my mind. What if, like so many others, this turns out to be a bad adaptation of a good book?

Didn't happen.

Clooney delivers a perfectly restrained performance as Matt King, a lawyer whose wife slips into a coma following a nasty boating accident. He suddenly finds himself reconnecting with his young daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). At the same time, he's having to finalize plans to sell longtime family property on Kauai to a business developer. Oh, and he finds out -- and I'm not revealing anything you don't see in the trailer -- his wife was having an affair at the time of her accident and planned to leave him.

Yes, "The Descendants" is a bit depressing -- I don't know why it was released during the holidays -- but it's also seriously funny, shockingly so at times, and is a moving piece about family, priorities, mortality and responsibility.

This should give Clooney some serious Oscar buzz. He takes a role in which he could have overacted and delivers a nuanced, thoughtful performance. Woodley and Miller are also picture perfect. The images I had in my mind of these pivotal characters were almost exactly what these two young actresses bring to the screen.

Oh, and I can't forget about Nick Krause as Sid, Alexandra's amusing, bumbling, pot-smoking friend. He provides some serious comic relief.

A special treat for us was seeing neighborhoods and parts of Honolulu through which we drove in October. It also made us want to hop on a plane tomorrow afternoon and spend a few days on Kauai.

For some reason, critics are complaining about Clooney's voice over. I have no idea why. It's a perfect plot device and reminded me of the book's narration. I don't see the problem.

Don't go into this film thinking you're going to see a pleasant two hours in paradise. This is a serious movie that deals with some deep and at times disturbing issues. But it's so well done, and with its oddly perfect mix of morbidity and hilarity, you simply should take it for what it is, which is a really good motion picture.

"The Descendants" is rated R.

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Anonymous Kurt Pickering said...

I I know what you're thinking: you are predisposed to voice-overs!

10:28 AM  

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