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'The Descendants' Was Worth Driving to Naperville

"The Descendants" scored big in every way with Dave.

If you ever doubted the talent of George Clooney (and I did), The Descendants will convince you of the man’s sheer talent. We’ve been put to sleep by his pretty-boy looks and the way he half-sleeps through easy roles like Up in the Air and Ocean’s Fill in the Blank.

However, Clooney’s performance as Matt King, a lawyer in Hawaii, establishes the salt-and-peppery actor as an absolute master, a once-in-a-generation cinematic force that deserves all the magazine covers he shows up on.

Clooney covers a huge swath of emotions as he deals with the impending death of his wife, on life support with no hope of survival. As he deals with the enormity of becoming the single parent of two girls, he learns of his wife’s prior infidelity, news broken to him by his oldest daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley, who should earn some hefty roles as a result of her excellent performance here).

The ensuing onslaught of emotions associated with death and cheating would certainly drive many humans to the State Lunatic Hospital at Danvers, and Clooney deftly handles them all. In the space of a few minutes, he’s alternately hangdog sad, run-down exasperated, run-like-crazy angry and brilliantly sarcastic. He’s also great at slapstick humor here, running like a clod in dress shoes at one moment and peeking sheepishly over the bushes in another. Overall, Clooney probably deserves some kind of Oscar nomination for this one, although I’ve never made any kind of prediction like this (nor have I gushed over another male like this, except maybe Sammy Sosa before we suspected his steroid abuse).

The script here is excellent, as exemplified by a ranting soliloquy Clooney delivers at the hospital. The star also narrates quite a bit here, a device which works really well.

A subplot of The Descendants is a storyline involving King’s extended family wanting to sell off some land on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The backdrop of the stress emanating from that business deal, and the family dynamics that deal brings about, adds to the complexity of Clooney’s performance here.

The real estate element does bring up an interesting and uniquely Hawaiian situation. At one point, Alexandra King mentions that she used to go camping on the family land on Kauai. Camping in Hawaii? Sure beats Wisconsin! I wonder if there’s a Hawaiian version of Bigfoot to worry about?

The filmmakers go out of their way to make the backdrop of Hawaii seem kind of drab. There’s lots of rain and wind, and some of the neighborhoods look like the seedier side of Los Angeles. But I kept reminding myself that there was probably some lush color and wild vegetation right out of camera range. The clothes the actors wear are straight out of 1991, as exemplified by the dull Hawaiian shirts Clooney’s relatives all wear.

The entire film is set to a soundtrack of Hawaiian music, which is actually pretty melancholy and fit the mood perfectly.

Patricia Hastie as Elizabeth King plays the best dead and/or catatonic person on film since Terry Kiser in 1989’s Weekend at Bernie’s.

I did drive to Naperville to see this movie. I’m not sure why it’s not showing closer to , but it’s well worth the long trudge up Route 59. For those unwilling to drive, you’re stuck with Joliet cinema tripe like Jack and Jill and The Sitter. Enjoy the film!

Quotable moments

“Hell, I haven’t been on a surfboard in 15 years” — Matt King on the “normalcy” of life on Hawaii.

“Paradise can go f--- itself” — Matt King, again waxing on life in Hawaii.

“I’m the backup parent, the understudy” — King describing his fatherhood style.

“In Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen” — King on his fellow islanders.

“The ocean was brutal that day” — Troy Cook, who was boating with Elizabeth at the time of her death.

“You were putting lipstick on a corpse” — Matt King to Elizabeth’s friends, who had been applying makeup to her catatonic face.

Other observations at the moviehouse:

  • The first movie of the day is $5 at the Naperville theater, as opposed to $5.25 in Joliet. But you do blow a couple bucks in gas getting there, although gas across from the theater was a mere $3.19 a gallon.
  • The seats at that theater are covered in fabric, as opposed to the leather at the Cinemark Louis Joliet Mall theater.
  • Before the show began, the movie screen manually shrunk to fit the size of the film! I was amazed!
  • The parking lot at the theater was packed, yet there were only eight people in my theater. I realized later a church was meeting in one of the theater spaces. I hope God likes the smell of popcorn.
  • Part of the previews included a detailed explanation of the emergency exits within the cinema. They don’t do that before movies at Cinemark Louis Joliet. It makes me think that the management at the Cinemark Louis Joliet is a little careless?
  • Shipwrecks, car chases, explosions, family drama and a wisecracking Mark Wahlberg: The upcoming Contraband is already too busy for me.
  • All the previews seemed to be a few minutes longer at this theater, or else I was just really impatient on Sunday.

Perhaps I’m used to loud overstimulation, but the sound of the movie was too quiet. The Hawaiian music deserved to be pumped louder.

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