Review: THE DESCENDANTS (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 27 February 2012

Review: THE DESCENDANTS (2011)


RATING: 2/5

Writer-director Alexander Payne's long-awaited follow-up to his 2004's Oscar-winning SIDEWAYS has been universally acclaimed by major critics as his most accomplished work to date in his directing career. Well, I seriously wanted to believe that because I always admired the way Payne never ceases to disappoint his viewers since his 1999's breakout hit, ELECTION. But I beg to differ -- and it's hard to believe, really, because THE DESCENDANTS marks his first disappointment ever.


George Clooney plays Matt King, a successful Hawaiian businessman whose wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) goes into a coma after a boating accident. While his wife remains in critical condition, he needs immediate help from his rebellious teen daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) out of her expensive private boarding school so she can take care of her elementary-age sister Scottie (Amara Miller). At the same time he is devastated to find out from the doctor that his wife will not recover. But what hurts him the most is when Alexandra confesses that the reason she and her mother were fighting prior to the accident was because she had caught her having an affair. And so Matt decides to hit the road with his daughters, along with Alexandra's dim-witted boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) to locate a man named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard) who was responsible for having an affair with Elizabeth.

On paper, you would one-hundred percent believes that Payne could pull this off with his eyes closed, because THE DESCENDANTS is the kind of subject matter where he can craft out a sensible character-driven drama with genuine comedic undertones. Too bad what is presented on the screen isn't exactly what I hoped for. Despite its thematic matter, the whole movie feels strangely cloying and insincere. Not only that, Payne's supposedly heartfelt screenplay is both cold and emotionally detached. Even some of his trademark uneasy comedic moments are largely awkward and unfunny. And the most disappointing of all, is its anticlimactic finale once Brian Speer is discovered. You would have expect something worth remembering for, but Payne fails to pull it off at all.

Only the cast is left worth praising here. Most critics and viewers have lifted George Clooney's so-called unglamorous and pitch-perfect performance as his most accomplished role to date. Personally, I found that universal praise is overrated. Make no mistake, he does delivers some good acting here but certainly not the highest caliber he has ever achieved. The rest of the supporting actors are also credible, particularly a scene-stealing performance by Shailene Woodley. Last but not least, the Hawaiian settings are gorgeous to look at.

Here's hoping THE DESCENDANTS will be Payne's last major disappointment and rebound with a better movie the next time round.

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