This movie made me hate voice-overs.
I’d never felt any real emotion to the technique. I remember Brian Cox’s speech in Adaptation about how voice-over was lazy writing in film and scoffing at it a bit. Granted, I’ve always preferred the voice-over free version of Blade Runner, but the technique itself never really brought up any emotions.
The first third of The Descendants is chock full of George Clooney’s voice-over, and it’s terrible. Awful. It takes interesting images we’re seeing and strips them of their power by stating plainly what the point is. He lives in Hawaii and he needs to collect his oldest daughter from another island than on which he lives. The idea of his daughter living on a completely different island while also being estranged is a good image, but then Clooney’s voice makes the exact point through dialogue. It robs the image of any power, and reminds me of the rare interview with Kubrick where he says that he doesn’t want to try to explain the ending of 2001 because saying it undermines the movie itself.
Anyway, that opening third set me against the movie, but it quickly turned itself around.
The story of Clooney’s journey at letting go of his wife in a permanent coma even after he finds out that she was cheating on him and was planning on leaving him. Yes, he grants, their marriage wasn’t happy, but it grates on him to hear her father (a wonderful Robert Forster) calling her a good and faithful wife and that Clooney was a terrible husband.
This journey is paired with Clooney’s work to sell some ancestral land that his family must part with in seven years. The family that owns the trust that owns the land is taking bids on the land with the hope of turning it into a large profit for the family as soon as possible. So, he’s juggling letting go of his wife and letting go of family property that they’ve owned since the 1860s.
His solution for both issues is to, at the same time, let go and look forward to the future. He can’t change the past, but he can try to improve the future. He can’t change the fact that his wife and he had a bad marriage that led to infidelity, but he can grow closer with his two daughters. He can’t change the fact that his family wants to sell the land, but he can try to still find a way to preserve it at the same time.
If the first act of this movie weren’t so clunky and obvious, I’d love this movie, but because of that first thirty minutes I think the film ends up being just good. Which is kind of sad, because I would have liked to love it.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4