When you think of Nat Faxon, former star of Ben and Kate, and Jim Rash, known for dressing like a woman on Community, you don't necessarily imagine them winning Oscars for Best Adapted Screenplay, and you certainly don't expect it to be for a somewhat somber film about a man dealing with his comatose wife slowly dying. Perhaps that's where Alexander Payne's impact comes in when it comes to The Descendants, a movie he also directed.
The film stars noted actor George Clooney as Matt King, a lawyer living in Hawaii with two children and the aforementioned comatose wife. Now, he has to deal with his two daughters, one young and one a troubled teenager; has to figure out some sort of land deal; and also, and the commercials let you know this up front, reconcile the fact his wife was cheating on him. So, yeah, there's a lot on his plate.
The movie starts off poorly, the early establishing voiceovers from Clooney are a bit clunky, and it just all feels a bit awkward and tedious for a little while. However, it eventually picks up, the addition of Matt's older daughter Alex, played by Shailene Woodley in a breakout role, helps. It's a pretty strong upward climb for The Descendants, as it gets progressively better until a satisfactory ending. Maybe there are a couple of lulls within the middle, but they aren't that egregious.
While Clooney got some awards buzz for this performance, and he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor, his performance isn't all that impressive. It's a Clooney performance, which is a concept film fans should be aware of. He gives pretty much the same performance in every movie, and gives off the same vibe. It doesn't really work all that well for a guy whose life is falling apart. This isn't to say that Clooney is a detriment to the movie. He just may not have been the best choice.
There are a few notable supporting performers, such as Robert Forster, Judy Greer, and Matthew Lillard, and also Beau Bridges is there, in a role that answers the question, "What if Beau had been The Dude in The Big Lebowski?" Some of the family drama stuff is a little strained, or a little unpleasant, but overall its plotted reasonably well. The movie also has a handful of funny moments, but it manages to hit the dramatic notes when it needs to, for the most part. Plus, it's shot in Hawaii, if you are into scenic views.
The Descendants is a pretty good movie, but it doesn't really rise above that. There's nothing special about it, and all of the award acclaim for it seems odd. Even the Best Adapted Screenplay seems like a reach. It isn't a bad watch, and if you can make it through the first 20 minutes or so you should be good to go the rest of the way, but the performances are unspectacular and nothing about the movie really grabs you in any way that feels particularly notable or worthwhile. It's just another movie, which isn't a bad thing, all in all.