I finally got the chance to see The Descendants this week. While it had some enjoyable moments, I was a little underwhelmed by the film--perhaps because of a lot of the high praise it is receiving? I think the points already made about the comedy undercutting the more serious moments makes sense, particularly in the scene when Matt and Speer's wife "confront" Elizabeth in the hospital. And, I wanted to be more invested than I was in what I think could have been a powerful scene--the one when Matt and his two daughters are overlooking the land passed down from their ancestors, thinking about memories of camping and memories still to be made.
I agree with Ryan that a lot depends on the individual viewer's reaction to the film given some of its ambiguity. But I've been thinking about my own reactions to it and I think part of the problem for me is that the second half of the film never really confronts what is presumably one of the film's central narrative points--namely, Matt's irresponsibility/absence as a husband and father. What led to his family becoming like "islands"? What were his flaws? Does he recognize them? What has changed about this between his wife's accident and the final scene with he and his daughters eating ice cream on the couch? I suppose the film alludes to Matt's being a workaholic, but it seems to me that the film didn't confront/develop this essential problem well enough and that this undercut the other two major elements of the story--Matt's quest to confront Speer and his decision about the land. And, because of this, it also, at times, felt like a pile-on on Elizabeth.
I think the second half of the film would have had the emotional punch it intended had it better dealt with Matt's relational stewardship. As it was, I felt like the fellow who offered similar thoughts for Slate: "is that all?"
Here's a little (note: 600 words or less) column I wrote for CaPC.
Yes it would seem that one of his big flaws was that he was a money driven workaholic, which the film arguably does quietly deal with, in his change of heart towards the real estate deal. The film didn't go into depth about his flaws but I would think that it certainly showed that he realized he had flaws and certain amends were made with his children. It seems to me that the film gently, quietly, and progressively showed him working through issues with his kids and becoming a more loving and responsible parent. Or at the very least trying, and realizing when his parenting probably wasn't responsible..... for example when he told his daughter that she wasn't to come with him to the adulterers cabin, but she came anyhow, and he allowed her to.
It's interesting. To some folks, some of the story may have seemed manipulative, but I think in this film some of what was being expressed was a bit under the surface of the plot. Which to me isn't really a bad thing. The film possibly did fail in the case of not touching enough on how he had failed his wife, although some of this was dealt with in his bedside "discussions" with her.
Yeah. I can see how a reaction to this film could be very individualistic. I loved it.... every bit of it, and never felt manipulated by it. Mind you I don't expect I'm as sensitive towards to a film manipulating me as some people seem to be. My wife wasn't as keen on the film, actually, for some of the reasons mentioned above, specifically it's length. The film wasn't able to draw her into the characters and story, and of course if that doesn't happen then the length becomes more noticeable. I on the other hand was riveted to the screen and could have happily sat through a bit longer running time. For various reasons it just hit the right notes for me that night. Maybe this was partially because I was pleased with the balance it had. It dealt with these issues seriously, without been too sappy, and happy endingly, but also without being too dark, depressing, and negative.
Edited by Attica, 15 December 2011 - 07:27 PM.