Saturday, February 4, 2012

Monkey at the Movies: The Descendants

We finally saw "The Descendants" last week. Totally worth the wait, and well-deserving of the award nominations and wins it has garnered. It's not a flashy film, and it's another somewhat deep, thought-provoking movie. (Mr. Remarkable Monkey says we have to see something lighter on our next outing to the cinema.) It's not overly dark... there's plenty of humor in it, but the characters are dealing with some pretty heavy situations. The beauty of the film is that it also manages to show the humorous aspect of those difficult situations. That's not to say it's a funny film in the comedic sense either... it's more a case of recognizing the absurdity that life can throw at you. Sometimes you've just gotta laugh.

The gist of the story is this: Matt King (played by George Clooney... rawr!), who has been a somewhat disconnected husband and father, suddenly finds himself thrust into the role of sole caretaker of his two daughters when his wife is left in a coma after a boating accident. He's a bit clueless about how to handle his 10-year-old daughter, Scottie (played by Amara Miller), who is having trouble dealing with her mother's hospitalization. Upon learning that his wife won't recover, he brings his rebellious 17-year-old daughter, Alex (played brilliantly by Shailene Woodley), home from boarding school. When she reveals to him that she caught her mother having an affair, Matt is stunned, and must now deal with a whole new layer of emotional turmoil.

Because his wife's living will requires that she be taken off life support, Matt has to inform her friends and family of her impending death, allowing them a few days to visit the hospital to say goodbye. He decides to seek out the other man, a real estate agent named Brian Speers (played my Matthew Lillard), partly to satisfy his curiosity about him, and partly to allow the man a chance to say goodbye. Alex becomes his sharp-tongued ally in the search to locate Speers. She drags along her friend Sid (Nick Krause), who initially seems like an empty-headed, shallow surfer dude. There's more to that kid than meets the eye, though!

Now, while all this is going on, Matt is also dealing with the decision of whether or not to sell the 25,000 acres of pristine land in Kuai that he and his many cousins own in a trust, handed down from generations ago. The trust will dissolve in seven years, and most of his cousins want to sell it. As the sole trustee, the final decision lies with Matt.

This is a man bearing many burdens, and Clooney's performance is a masterpiece of subtlety. For instance, you can read the inner conflict on his face when his father-in-law is ranting at him... you can see Matt swallow the urge to tell him about his "perfect" daughter's infidelity. Throughout the film, he is a man floundering and struggling with so many difficult issues, and yet he manages to keep his class and sense of humor. I wonder how many of us would be able to maintain the high road as well as Matt does if we found ourselves in his shoes.

I won't divulge any more of the story... it's one you really should see for yourself. If nothing else, the Hawaiian scenery is lush and gorgeous. The wonderful soundtrack is going on my Amazon wish list as well. And for the ladies, it's CLOONEY... what more do you need? Catch it quick though... while it's been given more screens since its Academy Award nominations, it won't be in theaters much longer.

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