Yesterday I saw one of the most annoying movies it has ever been my burden to watch in the cinema, and the first movie I have ever thought of walking out of: The Descendants.
While my usual run of movies involves large men/robots/spaceships/aliens/vampires doing things like blowing things up/drinking blood/smashing each other/smashing the Earth/smashing other planets, I also enjoy more subtle fare.
I like quirky French movies like Orchestra Seats, Amelie, or The Double Life of Veronique. I own the Three Colours Trilogy. I watch classic science fiction like Alphaville, Fahrenheit 451 and The Day The Earth Stood Still. And in more recent years I have enjoyed quirky American movies like Up In The Air, starring George Clooney. And this brings me to 2011's travesty of cinema, The Descendants.
A friend suggested that we see this movie, and I glanced through some reviews and saw all the awards and nominations it was getting. Had I done due diligence and watched the trailer, I would have said, "Are you kidding? I'm not watching this s##t!"
But I was stupid. I didn't watch the trailer. And it was even worse than the trailer suggested.
Mega Spoilers Coming. I am going to rant like a lunatic about the many horrors of this movie, and this involves talking about the plot, so if you want to see this movie and form your own opinion, then come back after you have seen it.
Okay, are we ready? Good.
Here is the plot in a few sentences: Clooney's wife lies in a coma, the victim of a speedboat accident. He is the sole trustee of a huge plot of prime land in Hawaii, which must be sold, and will bring a vast fortune to his family. His daughters are insecure emotional train wrecks but when he learns that his wife is going to die, he gathers them to him, only to learn that his wife was cheating on him.
It transpires that the man with whom his wife was cheating was in fact the brother in law of the man who is putting in a bid for their massive Hawaiian acreage, and that if they go with that bid, the fellow who's been schtupping Clooney's wife will make a fortune in commission.
And so it goes. The absurdities of the choices made by the characters made my eyes fall out. The younger daughter, Scottie, is acting out like crazy, but when her equally messed-up sister arrives, she's suddenly fine. The sister is first described as an alcoholic, drugged-up slut, but then displays none of this behaviour when she comes back home. It's as if the gravity of her mother's impending death, and assuming some mantle of responsibility, cause her to become a new person overnight.
Suddenly it's all happy families as Clooney sets off to track down the man who has been giving his wife some secret sausage, with the elder daughter playing along as a co-conspirator. And why does Clooney want to find this man? Not to exact revenge. Not to break out the six-shooter and splatter his vampire brains all over the floor. No. That's the wrong movie. It's to give that man a chance to say goodbye to his dying wife! WTF is wrong with this picture???
The movie sways between comedy and drama and resultingly lacks a coherent emotional tone. It zigzags between contrived laughs and forced tears, neither of which are effective nor satisfying.
In the end, Clooney has to make a choice. Does he sell his property to the local bidder (including the cheating scumbag) and keep the property 'in Hawaii'? Does he decline their offer and sell to someone who is offering a lot more, but from outside Hawaii? Or does he just sit on the property until he is forced to do something about it, and then incur all manner of legal issues and stresses for himself? You got it, he chooses Door Number Three.
He does not sign the papers and says he will sit on it for the next seven years, which is when the trust must be legally dissolved. His relatives go bananas and threaten legal action. He forgives his wife on her deathbed and kisses her tenderly. And he sits on the sofa with his now placid and good daughters, awaiting the fallout of his monumentally imbecilic decision, eating ice cream and watching The March Of The Penguins.
Clooney's character is the height of emotional idiocy. His marriage was falling apart due to his workaholic nature, and he ignored what should have, in reality, been clear danger signs that his wife was cheating, to the point where he was totally shocked by news of her infidelity.
When he finds out that his wife was cheating on him, he doesn't want revenge, he wants to give the guy a chance to say goodbye to his wife. His elder daughter challenges this decision but eventually goes along with it. Is this the triumph of maturity? No, because Clooney's character later has a moment of vulnerability and asks the advice of a moronic surfer dude friend of his elder daughter, so his choices are obviously NOT coming from a place of emotional solidity.
He forgives his wife for whatever stupid reason. Heck, he was going to ask her for a divorce 'eventually', he said, but at least he had the decency to stay faithful to her. She, on the other hand, ran off with another man (who was also married, by the way), and did it in their marital bed twice. And yet Clooney forgives his wife, and refers to her as 'good and faithful'. Don't give me this crap about the power of forgiveness. The message is, 'a man might neglect his wife, but if she cheats on him, then it is understandable'.
The irony is that throughout the movie, Clooney's character says to the cheating man, "Look, it didn't, 'just happen', nothing 'just happens', we make a choice' ". He also says to his wife's friend, "So if the man makes a mistake and the wife cheats, then it's never the woman's fault? Is that how it is?" But he repudiates this wisdom at the end by forgiving her. What crap.
He finds out that the cheater will stand to make a lot of money on commission if he sells the land to him, so what does he do? Yes, he declines their offer (yay!), but he chooses to sit on the property and have further and much larger issues come into his life. His only solace is that his daughters have been magically transformed into decently behaved people who will eat ice cream with him while he hides from the impending storm.
This is the worst movie I've seen in ages. The plot is untenable, bordering on lunacy, and at best is a clear example of blindly irrational behaviour. It didn't help that I really don't like Hawaiian music, which this movie was totally filled with. There was a directorial habit of beginning many scenes with ukeleles and wailing Hawaiian singers in the soundtrack, and halfway through the movie I felt like going on a killing spree. The characters are one dimensional, the jokes are forced, and the denouement is depressing.
There are only two redeeming factors in this movie. George Clooney's voice, and Shailene Woodley's legs. Both are pimped to the max in this movie, with George Clooney delivering wonderfully smooth narratives, and Shailene Woodley was paraded as bikini-clad jailbait for a good many scenes.
This was the first movie I have ever felt like leaving. I count myself lucky that a friend who had gone overseas called me during the movie, so I ran outside to take the call. I was out there for about ten minutes, but the movie went so slowly that nothing much happened in that time.
When the movie was over, we passed through all the people who were waiting to get into the cinema to see the next screening, and I honestly felt like saying to them, "Don't bother, this movie is terrible!"