Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh of a 32-part series dissecting the 84th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read any other posts regarding this event, please click the tag following the post. Thank you, and enjoy!
The Descendants tells the story of Matt King (George Clooney), a man coping with the aftermath of a tragic boating accident that has left his wife in a coma. Matt is the self-proclaimed “back-up parent” who must face his failings as a father and reconnect with his two daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). Amid this personal tragedy Matt must also decide whether to sell his family’s ancestral land.
Like Director Alexander Payne’s earlier works (notably Sideways and Election), The Descendants is a film about the struggle to build, maintain, and repair relationships of all kinds. It is about the ties that bind us to family, lovers, friends, ancestors, and even the land on which we were raised. It is about the struggle to understand each other and ourselves, and the absurdity of the mundane and the tragic alike.
With all of the heaviness of the narrative one might expect The Descendants to be a maudlin, melodramatic work, but it is actually quite understated. Indeed, it is the film’s quiet, contemplative nature that makes it worthy of a Best Picture nomination. This is a film that slowly builds in pressure and punch—its intensity sneaks up on you. The Descendants artfully juxtaposes the sorrow of loss with the banality of the everyday, allowing both to become imbued with poignancy through the interaction.
Clooney does a fine job carrying the bulk of the film, though I must admit I was a bit surprised by his Best Actor nomination; though his comedic moments hit perfectly, his dramatic scenes are a bit disconnected. He is well-supported by the other performers, in particular Woodley, who earned a Golden Globe nomination for her powerfully understated turn as Matt’s rebellious and self-destructive daughter. Amara Miller—a newcomer to film—also stands out as the sassy, foul-mouthed younger sister. The film also features scene-stealing appearances by Judy Greer and Nick Krause, who manage to bring both comedy and drama to their scenes.
Ultimately The Descendants is the kind of film that is not usually recognized by the Academy; it is not an overt and lavish costume drama, period piece, or melodrama. It’s quietly contemplative nature and slow pace is laudable and striking, but ultimately might cost it an Oscar statuette. Still, with nominations in five categories (Best Picture, Actor, Director, Editing, and Adapted Screenplay, respectively), The Descendants seems poised to receive at least some well-earned recognition.
Tags: Best Picture, Reel Feminist, The Descendants