A pretty good litmus test for the entertainment value of a movie is to watch it with my sister, Blara. Usually she clocks about 20 minutes before she gets up and starts wandering around the movie theater, re-organizing her purse on benches and bathroom sinks—a far worthier activity, in her opinion—until the screening ends. If the movie is particularly interesting, she will fall asleep on your shoulder.
So imagine my surprise when she not only sat through the entirety of The Descendants on Thanksgiving evening, but also stayed awake. It could have been the sugar she consumed, which numbered in the thousands of calories. It could have been that her attention span has mysteriously lengthened. Or it could be that the movie is…actually good?
“What did you think?” I asked her curiously as we walked out of the theater.
“That movie sucked,” she said. “It was the most boring movie I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah right,” Stupr*ndan said, in his newly anointed baritone. “The last time we saw a movie, you went to the gas station four times to buy candy.”
“Hmm,” I thought to myself, realizing that I hadn’t taken my traditional 5 minute bathroom break right at the denouement of the plot. “I think I might have enjoyed it as well.”
The Descendants is a movie about Matt King, played by George Clooney, who is one of the direct descendants of the princess of Hawaii. He is the sole trustee of over 75,000 acres of pristine, untouched Hawaiian land, which his family wants to sell to make close to $500 million dollars. Matt King works as a lawyer, but the rest of his cousins are all trust fund fuck-ups, and apparently need the money to continue surfing and drinking old-fashioneds in short-sleeved dress shirts.
Right as Matt is about to make a decision regarding the land, his wife gets in a major boating accident, and falls into a coma. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that she was a party animal and a daredevil, and also an adulteress.
Together, they have two daughters—Scottie, who is 10, and Alexandra, who is 17. Both girls, after years of being neglected by their parents, are trouble. Scottie sends mean text messages to fat girls in her class, and Alexandra, played by the extremely delicious-looking Shailene Woodley, is into drugs and fucking dudes and other hood rat shit like that. She’s away at boarding school when the accident happens.
When the doctor proclaims that his wife, Elizabeth, will not wake up, Matt finds out that she was having an affair with this douchebag real estate guy, Brian Speer, and was planning on asking him for a divorce. To tie up loose ends, and soothe his male ego, he goes on a quest, with his two daughters, to find out who Brian Speer is, so that he can see his face when he tells him that Elizabeth is about to die.
The movie just kind of tightly unfolds from there. It has a lot of things that make a story compelling—at least to me. A rich family making a decision about their fortune. A tropical paradise. A hot little actress just over the legal age, frequently wearing a string bikini. A mean father-in-law. A dumb sidekick. A hospital drama. The environment. That last part isn’t interesting, I just put it in there to be funny.
Alexander Payne, who directed the sleepy Sideways, packed in a lot of plot in 115 minutes, and he did it really neatly. Like a business traveler who knows how to roll up his clothing in his suitcase so that he doesn’t need to check a bag.
But in his efficiency, therein the problem lies (that last sentence is affecting the retarded diction of Andy on Parks and Recreation). In the well-written world of “heady” Hollywood dramas, everyone talks all slick and snappy, even the children, who lose their innocence as soon as they can remember their lines. They’re written for well-educated adults who have lost their capacity for wonder, who don’t register the inherent wrongness of Matt King’s extremely fit 17-year-old daughter Alexandra parading around with the bottom of her boob hanging out of her bikini while they search for the man who was fucking her mother.
In my world, my father would have forcefully drowned himself if he had witnessed such a sight. Fortunately for him, I’m almost completely flat-chested.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the movie isn’t art, it’s a well-designed product. It epitomizes a system working perfectly in synch—producer, director, writer, actor, cinematographer, and more, all at the top of their game.
George Clooney, the Cary Grant of this generation, is every character he’s played before—the musician in O Brother Where Art Thou, Mr. Fox in The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and nothing more. His emotions sway from minorly bemused to hilariously perturbed, and don’t veer too far away from comfort. One can’t help but like him.
The rest of the cast is also good. Shailene Woodley, with her feline eyes and hot body, will be the next Emma Stone, if Emma Stone is even old enough to be bested. Judy Greer, who plays Brian Steer’s wife, plays her part sweet, and then funny angry! Her blonde hair the same color as her tanned skin, she perfectly affects the trophy mother. I’m too lazy to look up the rest of the cast’s names, but trust me, they are all perfectly adequate.
The scenery is beautiful, it made me want to go to Hawaii. I enjoyed the escapism of being in the theater, occasionally laughing, and the rest of the time being numbly entertained.
“How did you like it?” my father asked us the next morning at breakfast. When we had arrived home from the movie at 9:30pm, he was already asleep. He’s 51.
“It was alright,” I said. “But you’d hate it.”
My parents are even worse than my sister. If they dislike a movie, they walk out of it within 15 minutes. It really sucked when I was in high school, and still had a babysitter, because right as I’d be settling into watching a forbidden episode of Dawson’s Creek, I’d hear them arrive back, way too early, from their Saturday date.
“Why?” asked my dad.
I couldn’t explain except to say, “too much cursing.” With thoughts of my parents disdain for an adult world lacking in spirituality or innocence, which they fend off by living fifty years in the past, that’s the only way that I could describe it.