The Descendants is a 2011 dramedy that is as unchallenging as it is unrewarding, playing more to the tune of monotone than masterpiece.
Coming off his 2004 Oscar-nominated film, Sideways, Alexander Payne does a more than admirable job in his 2011 follow-up, but is reminiscent of a child daring to venture into the water for the first time, as he's only willing to get his toes wet.
Despite the handful of endearing moments the film delivers, there are an equal and opposite number of head-slapping ones to go along with them. Payne's inept sense of humor hits with stomach-curdling fecklessness, amassing mostly the kind of nervous laughter by those generally seeking to avoid confrontation, rather than that of genuine humor.
Filled with teenagers constantly cursing and berating adults, making fun of the elderly as well as the mentally retarded, and 10 year-olds watching porn, The Descendants is more a de facto indictment on the current state of society than anything resembling endearing on Payne's or the film's behalf.
Much like the majority of films to have come out this year, The Descendants has no story arc, and serves merely as exposition throughout. There is literally no introduction, no rising action, no climax, no falling action, and no conclusion; it simply progresses at a flatline pace until it reaches the end, if one can indeed call it an ending.
Even the acting at times was a bit shotty. Imagine a movie starring three teenagers and a bunch of no-names, most of whom had never acted in a feature film before, thrown into the mix with George Clooney and you have an idea of the acting in The Descendants. That's not to say the acting was bad, but the inexperience of the entire cast outside of Clooney was a glaring weakness throughout the film that, despite even the most forgiving set of eyes, couldn't be avoided. The sole redeemer, of course, coming in Clooney's performance.
Clooney's a throwback to the days of old Hollywood and guys like Clark Gable and Cary Grant, when not only was playing a slightly different version of oneself in every movie not considered a bad thing, it was the standard. Classical acting, despite having been supplanted by method acting since the early '50s (shameless Brando plug), the last time I looked, is still acting. And while it may not be the standard in today's Hollywood, Clooney certainly is. With his performance, Clooney positions himself right atop this year's list of potential nominees for Best Actor in what is sure to be a category filled with heavyweights.
The Descendants is a fine film, but nonetheless a flawed one, teetering more on the verge of normalcy rather than that of perfection. Payne's adaptation delivers a superfluous plot filled with minor, intricate details which fail to amount to anything of greater substance in the end. As for myself, I thought Sideways was better.