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The UnPopular Opinion: The Descendants

12.17.2015

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

As 2015 winds to a close, studios are beginning to trot out their final awards contenders. Well, at least the films they feel should be awards contenders. You know the movies: heartfelt dramas about love and loss, sweeping romantic epics, and smaller independent films that are character studies or showcases for Hollywood actors known for bigger films. Each year, at least two or three movies are critically lauded as a sure-fire Oscar contender and many of them pick up some trophies along the way. But, when you watch the film, you see right through the transparent facade of what we come to know as "Oscar bait". These are the movies that hit all of the right notes to be considered one of the best films of the year, but it is all frosting. Underneath that superficial layer, you are left with a mediocre film and, in some cases, a bad movie. THE DESCENDANTS is one of those films.

Make no mistake, I am a fan of the films of Alexander Payne. Few directors do as well at making films about upper midde class men dealing with existential crises like Payne. From ELECTION and ABOUT SCHMIDT to SIDEWAYS and the excellent NEBRASKA, Payne has found a way to explore the slightly odd and slightly surreal worlds of characters dealing with middle age. It should come as no surprise that THE DESCENDANTS attempts to mine that same formula. What should have been the ace for Payne in making THE DESCENDANTS his best film was getting a star as big as George Clooney to play his lead. Set the film in gorgeous Hawaii and you have a movie that should be an automatic success. But, that is the key: THE DESCENDANTS just feels like it is on automatic and never goes deeper in any regard.

Everything about THE DESCENDANTS feels generic. Despite the tropical setting, there is nothing truly unique about the film. Clooney is at his best playing a character that is unlike himself. The actor has done great work in films like SYRIANA, BURN AFTER READING, O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?, and MICHAEL CLAYTON. Clooney quite often seems to be playing it so subtle that people just assume he is playing himself (see UP IN THE AIR, THE IDES OF MARCH). THE DESCENDANTS doesn't give Clooney much to do but play a man responsible for a massive amount of land that belongs to his family while dealing with a dying wife whom he learns has been secretly cheating on him. He also has two daughters, one of whom is an addict, while the other is lashing out violently at school. You would think there would be some room for big dramatic moments in the film, but the heartrate of this movie never gets above a brisk walk.

Shailene Woodley broke out in his first big screen role and even garnered nominations for her portrayal as young Alex, but her entire character is key to what is inherently wrong with THE DESCENDANTS. FOr as much as George Clooney feels like he is playing a variation of himself, all of the female characters are starkly and profoundly unreleastic. Woodley is the most prominent female role but she is reduced to a screaming, whining, and thoroughly broken individual. It could be said that this was how the character needed to be portrayed in service of the film's story, but every female shown in this movie is the same way. Judy Greer's character is a sobbing mess while young Amara Miller is a pre-pubescent disaster. Even the brief turn by Mary Birdsong as family friend makes her yet another stereotypical take on the "weaker sex".

As with Cameron Crowe's reviled ALOHA, there is a very strong feeling of THE DESCENDANTS as being white-washed. Plot-wise, the film is reverent about life in Hawaii and gives the King family deep roots in the history of the island, but this movie is squarely about "white people problems". Clooney is dealing with a cheating spouse and whether to sell his family's estate worth millions of dollars. His wife's lover is the man his family is planning to sell the property to. His wife is nearing the end of her life after a boating accident. As much as I feel for the pain the family is enduring, the entire film has a feeling of woe and sympathy and yet never earns the righ for the audience to sympathize with the characters.

But, THE DESCENDANTS just feels like a movie that you should like and should appreciate. The critics all loved it and audiences all told their friends about that great new George Clooney movie they saw that made them cry. But, THE DESCENDANTS is just a movie that is designed to make you emotional. That doesn't mean it is a good or effective movie, just that it knows which notes to hit in order to give the semblance of a heart-tugging tale. If you go back and watch the movie with a level head, years away from it's initial release, you find it is a forgettable and generic film, which is a shame given the talent involved. I truly wish this movie was better but I feel a need to call out the fact that it is not.

Maybe it was the seven years that Alexander Payne was away from filmmaking that left him rusty, but THE DESCENDANTS feels like a movie that should have come a lot earlier in his career. Ultimately, it is a perfect example of Oscar bait and nothing more. While actors like Nicolas Cage and Bruce Willis descend into generic, Redbox action films that belittle their prior career achievements, THE DESCENDANTS will remain an example of exactly the type of generic fare George Clooney could find himself making over and over again if he isn't careful. Every year, the Academy Awards laud trophies on movies like this when there are countless others more deserving. The next time you see this movie come on cable or decide to watch it on Netflix, keep in mind there are better films from every single person involved in front of and behind the camera and choose one of those instead.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to alexmaidy@joblo.com, spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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2:12PM on 12/17/2015
Yup, didn't identify with this flick in any way nor did it hold my interest.
Yup, didn't identify with this flick in any way nor did it hold my interest.
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+1
12:36PM on 12/17/2015
Bloody awful movie. Boring, over long and the acting was very over hyped!!
Bloody awful movie. Boring, over long and the acting was very over hyped!!
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12:36PM on 12/17/2015
Bloody awful movie. Boring, over long and the acting was very over hyped!!
Bloody awful movie. Boring, over long and the acting was very over hyped!!
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12:28PM on 12/17/2015
This movie came along at the right time to get a real reaction out of me. My mom's family had just gone through letting my grandmother die, so emotions were high watching this. Having said that, aside from Shailene Woodley's performance, which I thought was pretty amazing, it's probably my least favorite of Alexander Payne's movies. I don't think The Descendants is a bad movie, but for a movie co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, it's got the least amount of bite of any of Payne's work.
This movie came along at the right time to get a real reaction out of me. My mom's family had just gone through letting my grandmother die, so emotions were high watching this. Having said that, aside from Shailene Woodley's performance, which I thought was pretty amazing, it's probably my least favorite of Alexander Payne's movies. I don't think The Descendants is a bad movie, but for a movie co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, it's got the least amount of bite of any of Payne's work.
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11:49AM on 12/17/2015

Uh, right...

The critiques on this site are becoming soooo pedestrian. What were you hoping for, Maidy? Clooney in a cape? Example, "the heartrate of this movie never gets above a brisk walk." Does noone edit this stuff?
The critiques on this site are becoming soooo pedestrian. What were you hoping for, Maidy? Clooney in a cape? Example, "the heartrate of this movie never gets above a brisk walk." Does noone edit this stuff?
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11:11AM on 12/17/2015
This movie was so damn boring. And I as well am a big fan of Payne's.
This movie was so damn boring. And I as well am a big fan of Payne's.
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10:29AM on 12/17/2015

agreed

i love the rest of Payne's films (even the flawed 'Citizen Ruth') but this one left me severely underwhelmed, it was all a bit 'meh' and typical.
i love the rest of Payne's films (even the flawed 'Citizen Ruth') but this one left me severely underwhelmed, it was all a bit 'meh' and typical.
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10:16AM on 12/17/2015
This film destroys me in how sad it is. Clooney's character's speech to his wife in the hospital at the end gets me every time.
This film destroys me in how sad it is. Clooney's character's speech to his wife in the hospital at the end gets me every time.
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9:39AM on 12/17/2015

7/10

Watched this film the other day since the day I saw it in theaters, still holds up. Kept me invested in Clooney's character and his daughter and had the right amount of comedy. Not Payne's best but didn't have to be.
Watched this film the other day since the day I saw it in theaters, still holds up. Kept me invested in Clooney's character and his daughter and had the right amount of comedy. Not Payne's best but didn't have to be.
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-1
8:48AM on 12/17/2015

8/10.

"Despite the tropical setting, there is nothing truly unique about the film. [...] As with Cameron Crowe's reviled ALOHA, there is a very strong feeling of THE DESCENDANTS as being white-washed. Plot-wise, the film is reverent about life in Hawaii and gives the King family deep roots in the history of the island, but this movie is squarely about "white people problems". That was all on purpose. Clooney's character narrates "People think Hawaii is a paradise. Don't they think we're normal people
"Despite the tropical setting, there is nothing truly unique about the film. [...] As with Cameron Crowe's reviled ALOHA, there is a very strong feeling of THE DESCENDANTS as being white-washed. Plot-wise, the film is reverent about life in Hawaii and gives the King family deep roots in the history of the island, but this movie is squarely about "white people problems". That was all on purpose. Clooney's character narrates "People think Hawaii is a paradise. Don't they think we're normal people with normal lives and normal problems?" (I'm paraphrasing). Also, you don't seem to understand what "white-washing" means.
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7:40AM on 12/17/2015
This was a great flick. Was funny, had heart, and great acting. Let's not forget it also was home to Mathew Lillards comeback.
This was a great flick. Was funny, had heart, and great acting. Let's not forget it also was home to Mathew Lillards comeback.
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11:15AM on 12/17/2015
That was not his comeback, dude. He's done the same amount of work before and after the movie.
That was not his comeback, dude. He's done the same amount of work before and after the movie.
10:17PM on 12/19/2015
That was sarcasm, man.
That was sarcasm, man.
7:13AM on 12/17/2015
Its one of my favourite Comedy-drama films.Love the backdrop of Hawaii which gives a fresh feel.Love watching Clooney in Comedy-dramas like this,Up in the Air,Intolerable cruelty
Its one of my favourite Comedy-drama films.Love the backdrop of Hawaii which gives a fresh feel.Love watching Clooney in Comedy-dramas like this,Up in the Air,Intolerable cruelty
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5:54AM on 12/17/2015
It was a good movie but I thought it was the weakest of Payne's films. That said, it does contain one of my favorite lines in movie history. Clooney says it when he finds out his wife was cheating on him and her friend defends her decision by using the old, she was finding herself...I am paraphrasing a bit....

"How come when a woman cheats, it is considered some spiritual journey?"
It was a good movie but I thought it was the weakest of Payne's films. That said, it does contain one of my favorite lines in movie history. Clooney says it when he finds out his wife was cheating on him and her friend defends her decision by using the old, she was finding herself...I am paraphrasing a bit....

"How come when a woman cheats, it is considered some spiritual journey?"
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1:58AM on 12/17/2015
The Descendants is the only Clooney movie I like aside From Dusk Till Dawn.
The Descendants is the only Clooney movie I like aside From Dusk Till Dawn.
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