Film Review: “The Descendants” [TIFF Exclusive]

Written by Barfoot December 05, 2011

This is We Eat Films’ first world premiere review — meaning, at the time of this writing, only a handful of people have actually seen “The Descendants” and fewer still have written a review for it.

“The Descendants” premiered Saturday September 10th at the Toronto International Film Festival in the Visa Screening Room Elgin Theatre. The director and cast, the press and the rest of us lucky souls who got to see it (including the writer/producer/Canadian Jason Reitman) all entered the regal, rococo theatre and took our seats on the first level or the balcony. The film’s director, Alexander Payne, introduced the film to the audience saying, “Welcome to the George Clooney Film Festival” (George had premiered “Ides of March” the previous night with Ryan Gosling). Payne is known for “Election,” “About Schmidt” and “Sideways,” the last of which also had its world premiere in the very same theatre some 7 years earlier.

“The Descendants” follows Matt King (Clooney), a shared-landowner of a vast Hawaiian estate  (however vast one can describe Hawaii). Matt struggles to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife slips into a coma following a boating accident. Matters become more complicated when he has to reconcile his lifestyle with his desires as he discovers that his wife had been having an affair prior to the accident. Matt confronts his pain, his faults and the other-man all with humour and sincerity while making strides to understand his children and become a better father.

I had enjoyed the humour of Payne’s previous films. “Sideways” and “About Schmidt” both leaned towards the humorous articulation of the absurdity of life and existent. Yet,  “The Descendants” doesn’t indulge as much into the  Camus-with-awkward-pauses type storyline as the other did.  “The Descendants” is much more balanced in terms of plot and individual development. The only actual criticism is actually the acting. George was subtle yet stellar. Shailene Woodley is likely to be the next Kristen Stewart. But sadly there were small-part-actors that added nothing and subtracted everything through their terrible acting, for example the boat-driver.  And even though Sid (Nick Krause ) was hilarious, his acting probably needs a little work before he can become the next Keanu Reeves.

Beside all of this, “The Descendants” hits the sob button more than any other of Payne’s films.  It deals with all three letters of the dramatic film acronym, S.A.D.: Sacrifice, Adultery and Death.  If you’re ready for a good cry, watch this in November when it is finally released to theatres. If you want to see two up and coming young actors, watch it this November. If want to find a good website where you can purchase copious amounts of  gluten-free bread… I can’t help you with that.

My Rating: 8/10


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