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To be honest, I’m surprised The Descendants got the kind of circulation it has. It’s not that the reviews are wrong, it’s certainly a good and beautiful movie–but it’s a difficult one. My theater has it listed between Ghost Protocol and Game of Shadows. Not to shit on those two movies (I’ve seen the latter and intend to see the former), I’m just saying, sandwiched between two popcorn stuffers with more explosions than layers of thought is this movie speaking in metaphors whose antagonist is a dying, comatose matriarch who doesn’t say so much as a single word.

It even seems to have been purposefully set in Hawaii to make it more difficult to deal with: right from the beginning, they address how it’s not that beautiful vacation land where people go to get away from everything for the people who live there. People have lives there. Almost systematically, something unbelievably shitty would happen then the cinematographer got to go to town (but the opposite of town: beautiful beaches and valleys and the like). The only thing keeping the whole ship from going under might’ve been the setting. That is, it’s a little bit of a black comedy masked by a beautiful drama.

I think I remember seeing some review calling it the comedy of the year. I’m no stranger to hyperbole, but it really is a very funny movie. It’s just not a gut-busting, raucous romp through the perils of old age–that lady’s in a goddamn coma. But I laughed out loud a few times and felt uncomfortable just as many times. They’re the kind of funny things that no one should really laugh at and, in a theater, no one really does.

Which is to say it’s a challenging movie. It’s funny, it’s bleak, and it’s thought provoking. It’s good enough to make me surprised that it’s not in an art house.

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