Review: The Descendants
The Descendants is a recent movie that has hit theaters that is directed by Alexander Payne (of Sideways and About Schmidt fame), and stars George Clooney as a father trying to reconnect with his daughters after his wife (their mother) gets into a tragic Jet Ski accident. Coming into “award season” for movies, this movie stood out to me, as I think that it touches on a few “real” topics, and is not afraid to hide behind much safer topics.
To clarify, the movie takes place in Hawaii and focuses between two main conflicts. One is that Matt King (Clooney) is a descendant of King Kamehameha I and, through a trust, finds himself with a plot of land on Hawaii that he owns (due to the fact that he is the head trustee). The land that he owns is on the island of Kauai (a much more outdoor based island (in that it is a destination for campers or hikers)), and because of that, many outside sources have been offering him money in order to buy the land and turn it into different tourist attractions. Some want to make it a resort, some want to make it a mall, but the fact is that there are many people that want to buy his land, and because he is the sole trustee, he has the right to decide who to sell it to. There are multiple cousins that all are jockeying for their own buyers, so that adds a bit of depth to that part of the story, but the main focus for a good 75% of the movie is the second of the two conflicts.
Now I want to give a quick spoiler warning, because even though I thought that I saw this part in one of the trailers, and I really do not think that it is ruining anything, the second conflict involves a much more personal matter. While King’s wife is in a coma in the hospital, he decides that he needs to go get his other daughter (played by Shailene Woodley) from the boarding school that she attends on Maui so that the whole family can be around the ailing mother. Before picking the daughter up, King learns that his wife is only getting worse, and that soon she will die. Despite knowing this, he holds off the information from his friends until later, and the first person that he tells is his daughter once they have returned to Oahu (where they live). After Alexandra King (Woodley) calms down from the initial shock, she ends up telling Matt that Elizabeth (Matt King’s ailing wife and Alex’s mom) was cheating on him with another guy before she got into the accident. While the beginning is a bit trust storyline heavy, a large part of the rest of the movie focuses on King trying to find the man his wife cheated on him with, with his two daughters (17 year old Alex and 10 year old Scottie (played by Amara Miller)) and Alex’s friend Sid (played by Nick Krause). Before the accident, Matt didn’t have the greatest relationship with his daughters, so this storyline focuses on the building of a relationship with his two daughters through the lens of an extra marital affair that his wife committed. The thing that I really liked about this part of the film was that it felt really genuine to me, in that King was a pretty relatable guy (outside of the whole heir thing), he was pursuing a personal quest that seemed very real, and he was trying to build up a relationship with his children, which is something that I see in the real world quite often.
While the supporting cast does a very good job, Clooney ends up stealing the show with an absolutely amazing performance. It’s easy to see the troubles that King is going through, and Clooney once again does a very good job of really becoming the character that he is playing. Another thing that I really enjoyed was the fact that the movie was actually filmed in Hawaii, which manifests itself in a few subtle ways. One of them is the fact that in a few scenes, the sky is overcast, which may seem like a small thing, but when you see it, it just looks real, which could be argued is very similar to many of the struggles that King is going through as a character. Out of the few movies that have been released in the past month or so, I definitely think that The Descendants is one that you should check out, because from head to toe, it seems like a really genuine movie that pulls no punches and comes out much better because of it.
Eli Cash Review of “The Descendants”: 9 out of 10 stars