CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 15
  • Drama
  • 2011

The Descendants

Film4 The Descendants

Synopsis

A Hawaiian landowner (George Clooney) is forced to reconnect with his daughters when his wife ends up in a coma after a waterskiing accident. From the director of Sideways and About Schmidt.

About

It's always a bit disconcerting as a critic when your take on a film doesn't coincide with the vast majority. It makes you start wondering whether there's something wrong with you. In the case of The Descendants, for which words like "deeply moving", "emotionally rich" and "masterpiece" have been bandied about (not to mention all the awards buzz), it's left me questioning whether I might be lacking in the heart department. It's either that or (whisper it) the film just isn't as good as the hype would have you believe. It's by no means bad. And the performances are great. But I just can't help but feel that the film has garnered a few more accolades than it should due to its worthy(ish) subject matter.


The plot - without giving away any spoilers - is this: Wealthy Hawaiian landowner Matt King (George Clooney) realises that he's been neglecting his family when his thrill-seeking wife is left comatose by a waterskiing accident and he is left looking after their two daughters. At the same time he's uncomfortably negotiating the sale of one of the last unspoiled corners of Hawaii with his Aloha-shirted, passive-aggressive cousins. All this is set against a picture-postcard backdrop of blue skies, lush green mountains, golden beaches and the roaring Pacific Ocean.


Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) specialises in capturing the hilarity and tragedy of the middle-aged male in crisis. While The Descendants has its fair share or funny and poignant moments, it feels more manipulative than Payne's previous work (cue twee ukulele music and a close-up of a little girl being told about the seriousness of her Mommy's hospital condition). It gets a bit preachy too, especially on the subject of, like, being true to your ancestry and protecting Hawaii's landscape and culture and stuff.


But where it excels is in capturing the sheer messiness of family relationships. And this is in no small part down to the immense acting talents of George Clooney and Shailene Woodley, who plays his 17-year-old daughter, Alexandra. Here, the reports really haven't been exaggerated. Clooney gives possibly the finest performance of his career, comical and subtle in equal measure, while Woodley, who has previously been best known for TV work, is guaranteed to become a Hollywood staple from now on. Amara Miller also does a fantastic job as 10-year-old Scottie, and the screen lights up whenever the three of them appear together. Clooney's perplexedness at the girls' expletive-peppered sibling spats provide some of the film's high points.


So while I didn't experience the misty-eyed elation that one might expect after seeing an Oscar-worthy film, I did leave contemplating the artful ways in which George Clooney can manipulate his increasingly distinguished face. And I also Googled 'holidays in Hawaii' as soon as I got home.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: George Clooney
  • Director: Alexander Payne
  • Photographer: Phedon Papamichael

In a nutshell

A reasonably well-observed tragi-comedy, but not up to Payne's usual standards. Worth seeing for the outstanding performances from George Clooney and Shailene Woodley - and a great advert for Hawaii.

by Rebecca Davies

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Woman In Black 2

    The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death

    The spectral 'woman in black' feeds off the loss and trauma of Second World War evacuees in this gothic sequel from director Tom Harper (The Scouting Book For Boys)

  • Film4 Men In Black 3

    Men In Black 3

    Agent J (Will Smith) travels back to the 1960s to stop an alien from assassinating a young Agent K (Josh Brolin) and changing the course of history

  • Film4 Muppet Christmas Carol

    Boxing Day 2014 on Film4

    Film4's lineup on Boxing Day 2014

  • Film4 In Fear

    In Fear on Film4

    Alice Englert and Iain De Caestecker star as a new couple driving through Ireland who become lost and the target of a mystery tormentor

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Joe Cunningham's 11 recommendations for LFF 14

    Unfortunately I haven¿t been jet setting around the world this year to the various exciting international film festivals, but that¿s what makes the London Film Festival¿s compilation approach to progr

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Michael Leader's 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

    One of the best things about the London Film Festival¿s smorgasbord approach to programming is that, amongst the world premieres and gala screenings, there¿s an eclectic collection of exciting films o

Watch On TV

9:00PM
Mon 22 Dec

New to Film4

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share