‘The Descendants’ Delivers Engrossing Family Dramedy

George Clooney and Shailene Woodley star in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants."

We will all fail.
It’s inevitable. It’s only a question of when and how often.
While watching “The Descendants,” I thought much about failure — about how time passes and events and distractions lead us away from what we want to accomplish.
But along the way, success is sure to intervene, as well.
Sometimes, it’s hard to even tell the difference.
“The Descendants” is an engrossing, heart-breaking look at a small group of people succeeding and failing in ways we may not expect. And as with life, there is humor, although sometimes quite black, along that path.
I had the chance to attend a Q&A with director Alexander Payne around the time of the release of “Sideways.” He came off as a very thoughtful and humane individual, an artist and a Midwesterner.
It was easy to understand why he makes the films he does.
Looking back at movies like “Election,” “About Schmidt,” and “Sideways,” they all feature deeply flawed men going on journeys of one kind or another. They all encounter people who are at once vivacious and sad. They all learn something.
“The Descendants” does follow that general formula, but it is in some ways a more “serious” work. Part of that obviously has to do with the nature of the story. The lead character’s wife is in a coma. The family is dealing with the sudden tragedy and many conflicting feelings.
Payne, however, doesn’t seem to poke as much fun at characters in this film as he has in the past. It’s not something that ever bothered me about his other movies. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. But in this film he chooses not to take that approach, even at moments where those of us familiar with his work might expect it.
Sitting in the theater, I noticed that how much humor is in the film probably depends on who you ask. There were moments that drew laughter from the whole crowd, while another moment would elicit loud laughter from only a handful of people. It was easy to understand the disparity, as these scenes could be taken in different ways by different sensibilities.
I quite liked that.

Film director Alexander Payne, an Omaha native.

I consider Payne to be a true cinematic treasure, and I’m quite happy to brag that he is from my home state of Nebraska. You have been notified.
“The Descendants” is an incredible film full of complex emotions and morality. It touches on fidelity, family, responsibility, success and failure. It simultaneously filled my heart and destroyed it. It is about being a human and all that entails.
I highly recommend seeing this film for those reasons. I have no reservations about saying that I loved it.
Don’t be surprised if George Clooney is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar next year. He deserves the nod.

Read what Roger Ebert had to say about “The Descendants” here.

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