The Descendants

I will not apologise for the lack of updates… life has been quite busy and boy, does it feel good to open WordPress and write another review. But writing costs time and up to the end of March, time is not exactly on my hands. As of April, I’ll try to maintain the Avenue as planned (updates on every *5th and 0*th of the month), but for the next fortnight it’s best not to expect too much. The Avenue has some subscribers and if you aren’t one, becoming one may be the best option not to miss out on any updates.

Every now and then I have a couple of minutes off and it’s not always spent on the Avenue. After all, as mentioned in an earlier update, I’m labouring on a new book, a novella. Well, a novella and a novel. Why stop at one, eh? My first book was published at the very end of 2008 and elaborate marketing research (read: me going to some bookstores with a couple of questions) told me not have high hopes for my first book, especially as it was a collection of stories (nicknamed the “kiss of death” in the book world because these collections hardly sell). Not only did I sell more than double of the average a Flemish debutant manages to sell (don’t be too enthousiastic: the numbers are disappointingly low), this month – more than 3 years after the initial publishing date, three more copies were sold. Not bad for something released in 2008, eh?

Why bore you with this information? Because sometimes I feel bad I haven’t given my readers a second book. But then you think of people like Alexander Payne, who released Sideways in 2004 and, apart from a couple of shorts, hasn’t directed anything since then. He’s not the only one: more directors don’t seem to mind having a couple of years between their projects. Good news for me, bad news for fans. Payne, who debuted with the excellent Citizen Ruth and then gave us Election and About Schmidt, finally closed the gap after Sideways with The Descendants. Seven years later, chances were high people could only feel disappointed and, by Jove, this happened by the thousands. Had The Descendants been a work by Soderbergh, who releases approximately 90 films a year, no one had bothered this much, but 28 months of waiting doesn’t make it easier to follow up on a generally loved movie.The question hadn’t become “How good is the new Payne movie?”, the question was: “How much does The Descendants disappoint?”

Well, that’s a good question. The film heavily relies on George Clooney and Shailene Woodley (as his oldest and wayward daughter). They are the basis of the film and indeed the family, once the comatose Mrs King is diagnosed as a hopeless case. Suddenly, Clooney’s character Matt King has to pull daughter Alexandra (Woodley) from the expensive school, be a full-time dad to other daughter Scottie (Amara Miller), get to grips with his wife being an adultress (something that Mrs King and Alexandra fought about and which caused Alexandra to be sent to a boarding school as far away as possible) and decide whether to sell a piece of land on an Hawaian island or not. I may have complained about my month at the start of the article, but Mr King is definitely in a worse situation.
The scene where Clooney’s character runs on flipflops through the streets is one you may have seen on film programmes. It’s a scene that didn’t sell the movie to me, I have to confess. However, that’s right after King finds out his wife had been having an affair for months and, as a reaction to that, running down to friends in anger seems like a more logical step. The key here is empathy: you understand the actions of the character and you feel for him. Empathy is a key word for The Descendants: it helps you understand the anger of Matt King and his daughter Alexandra, the despair of the family when everything seems to become worse, the heavy-handed decisions that were begging to be made… if you have a fair share of empathy, you’ll feel along with this movie. Much like About Schmidt and Sideways (and to a lesser extent Payne’s earlier work) relied heavily on feeling along with those characters, but with The Descendants that’s about all there is: if you can’t bother to feel with the King family, there’s hardly anything else in this film. To say The Descendants is a weak movie would be underestimating it: after all, people don’t complain when action movies rely heavily on action scenes, but action movies aren’t often made to be remembered for years to come, something that (Citizen) Ruth and the wine drinkers of Sideways have become. As of such, The Descendants doesn’t offer enough. Nevertheless, a more than average movie. But, for somebody like Payne, is that enough?


2 thoughts on “The Descendants

  1. deeopey March 19, 2012 / 13:14

    I liked the Descendants so was all prepared to disagree with you .. but no, your criticism is fair. Especially the concluding couple of sentences.

    It just wasn’t as good as we’ve come to expect.

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