Madeleine Buisseret reviews The Descendants, starring silver fox George Clooney.
Most girls, myself included, are all too familiar with George Clooney’s obvious sex appeal, and my guess is, so is he. He’s been comfortable in that role too, as adorably dashing single father in One Fine Day, skilled, suave criminal leader in Ocean’s Eleven; his charisma and dark-eyed allure have been the most recognised aspects of his fine film career, and in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
However, in The Descendants, his image embraces a more vulnerable portrayal of a man caught in the whirlwind of family tragedies. Clooney is Matt King, a wealthy, workaholic Hawaiian lawyer whose wife Elizabeth falls into a coma after a horrific water sports accident. Coupling that with a pair of precocious, troublesome daughters, the foul-mouthed, ten-year old Scottie (Amara Miller) and the beautiful (and naturally) rebellious seventeen-year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), Matt finds his self-proclaimed ‘back-up parent’ role in need of serious revamping.
Now, if someone had presented that to me, and I was in charge of casting, Clooney would not be the immediate actor that comes to mind as portraying such a role, but he masters it with sheer brilliance. As Matt is faced with the painful decision of what he should do regarding his wife’s condition, and how he should go about breaking the news to his neglected daughters, his transformation is handled with emotional poise and elegance which is at times hilarious, heart-breaking and inspirational, and often all three at once. The story particularly focuses on the bonding between Matt and his eldest daughter, and their shared ability to find teamwork and cheeky humour in what is revealed as an even more twisted crisis than what it first appears to be.
The script is a true art piece; it shows us how, when we are grieving over a loved one, in whatever situation, the cathartic route often involves anger towards the beloved in question, and Clooney portrays this flawlessly as a man torn between a forgotten, yet deep love for his family, and the secrets he uncovers which tears his world and theirs apart. But it’s not just about Clooney; Woodley manages to steer away from the usual brattish tedium we are so accustomed to seeing on our screens. She portrays an emotionally damaged girl with a fair share of attitude, but adeptly shows Alexandra’s underlying maturity and love for her father, without it appearing forced or sickly. Miller is also cute as a button, despite her stubborn, unruly behaviour in a mature performance for someone so young.
Renowned underwater photographer Don King masters a short but moving scene of Alexandra’s raw grief over her mother below a pool surface. Other notable performances include a bitter father-in-law by Robert Forster, an ignorant cousin by the somewhat forgotten Beau Bridges, and the stupid but lovable Sid by Nick Krause. With plenty of ‘do I laugh or cry’ moments, this film gives Clooney an embraceable fresh style, and shows off Alexander Payne’s ability to handle life’s delicate personal tragedies in what is fairly deemed as an award-deserving masterpiece.