I think this year is facing an overgrown case of likability. Quite often I find myself using the word "inarguable" in my reviews this year. That applied to "The Help", and then the same for "Beginners", and it certainly applies for "The Descendants". I've actually been kind of dreading this film for some time, because from the very first trailer I've had the feeling that it looks too nice. It looks kind, not unintelligent, but altogether safe. Mind you, that's not a bad thing. It can work nicely at times, but having spent seven years away from the big screen, you could've asked for more from Alexander Payne.
Again, not to cast judgment without seeing the film, and I'll have to wait a while to see it as it's not on the list for Telluride by the Sea. The reviews, meanwhile, are pretty much exactly along those agreeable lines. Todd McCarthy is absolutely emphatic, much like he was in his review for "A Dangerous Method". Kris Tapley is quite reserved in thinking it's Payne-lite, and I'm very glad to see someone with that kind of restraint to see a film's flaws. Gregory Ellwood is also sipping the kool-aid, but it serves the purpose of reminding that this is a prominent awards player. No abrasive frills for the Academy. No problem.
Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter): "A major key to the film’s success are the nuances, fluctuating attitudes, loaded looks and tonal inflections among the main characters; the ensemble work is terrific. Despite her father’s admonitions, Alex continues to fling around dirty words, something then picked up by Scottie. Sid starts off seeming like a total dufus, always saying exactly the wrong thing, but even he gets a significant scene later on that completely changes the way he can be regarded."
Kris Tapley (In Contention): "Yet there is something that feels somewhat diminished by the film’s cruising along a slighter path for so long before tying its themes up in an emotional way. While Payne mostly dodges “look-at-me” comedy strokes (save for going broad with actor Nick Krause once or twice too much), the main character’s central quest in the film — to confront the man who was sleeping with his now comatose wife — comes off so small for so long that the final payoff of catharsis feels slightly burdened."
Gregory Ellwood (HitFix; A-): "Word of mouth, awards season attention and Clooney's starpower should help the Fox Searchlight film at the box office where it will have no problem surpassing Payne's "Sideways" domestically. The picture should also be a key component in the upcoming Oscar race contending for all the major awards including picture, actor, director and screenplay. Woodley has an outside chance at snagging a supporting actress nomination. Needless to say, "The Descendants" is one film moviegoers and the industry will be discussing for a long time to come."