Every year, there is one picture that if not for one other picture would be everyone’s pick for the year’s best.
This film would win awards in almost every category from the slew of groups that give awards.
This year, that movie is The Descendants.
The accolades start with Alexander Payne’s (Sideways) script. It is deep, rich and human. Set in Hawaii, The Descendants casts George Clooney as Matt King. He is in the proverbial and uncomfortable vice.
Matt’s wife of umpteen years is in a coma and dying. After being told she has no chance to ever revive, and that it would be best to disconnect life support, Matt learns she’s no longer in love with him. A divorce was planned. To add insult to injury, she is also having an affair.
The divorce is really no surprise to Matt. He hasn’t been a very attentive father or husband. The affair is another story.
Her impending death means one-sided conversations where he comes to terms with her, and his failures and hers. Then there is the affair, his non-relationship with the two daughters and how to relate to them without her.
Coming to terms involves a trip to find the lover and an often-emotional reconnection with the kids. A side story involves a decision Matt — who is an attorney — must make regarding what to do with one of the last and most beautiful of areas in Hawaii.
Back to the dilemma of being the film that any other year would be the best of the best. The Descendants is grabbing its fair share of best awards from groups that divide comedy from drama. But in the minds of critics, audiences — and those that make movies their business — it’s not quite good enough to beat the very creative, brilliantly executed silent movie The Artist.
That may be the case, but with The Descendants not quite good enough is pretty damned good. Payne’s movie delivers on every level starting with award-winning acting.
Clooney — while pretty much always playing the same character — has never been better. In an era of glitz, special effects and flash, a film about what it’s like to be uniquely human is refreshing. Clooney’s beginning narration sets the tone for the great script to follow. It’s packed with gallows humor, painful irony and no one delivers a sarcastic but ironic line better than Clooney.
He took home a Golden Globe and is an Oscar shoo-in. Clooney is supported by a great cast. Shailene Woodley as his testy daughter Alexandra did last year’s second best supporting work.
There’s that thought again. Second best.
Actually, she takes a back seat to no one — and if you’ll pardon the male reference — Woodley is the perfect straight man for Clooney. She’s a Yin to his Yang and, when needed, the Yang to his Yin. The chemistry is exceptional and anchors the film.
The Descendants works on every level from the quiet conversations with a comatose wife and Matt’s interaction with their children, to the healing process and to Matt’s agonizing decision about what to do with the land and his analysis of the history behind that land. The legacy of the land connects to his family, and all Hawaiian families and the reasons are powerful.
As is this movie.
All plot points, all characters and all that happens from the opening scenes to the emotional close, is a wonderful and a non-preachy exploration of the great depth, width and complexity of life, love and relationships, and this great gift we call humanity.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
Rated R for mature themes and language. It opens Friday, January 27 at Regal’s Columbia Center 8, the Fairchild Cinemas 12 and Walla Walla Grand Cinemas.
5 stars to 4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen
4 stars to 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie.
3 stars to 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on video.
2 stars to 1 star: Don't bother.
0 stars: Speaks for itself.