The Descendants

12 May

Director: Alexander Payne (2011)

Matt King (George Clooney) is the sole trustee of his ancestral family’s estate on Honolulu, whose tranquil beauty is being threatened by the sweaty capitalist mitts of a property developer keen to make the land into hotels.  Breathing down his neck, encouraging his hand to the pen is his extensive family of cousins whose equally sweaty mitts are keen to pocket the tidy sum they would all gain to earn if Matt decides to sign and sell. Underlying the whole premise is of course the notion of family, making The Descendants one of those rarely seen family dramas that manages to maintain an engaging story and cast with touching comedy where the tenderness exists without its usual accompaniment of strangulation with heart strings.
The problem is, just as Matt was about to put pen to paper, his wife went and got herself in a boating accident, leaving her in a coma she is unlikely to recover from. Add this to his new inadvertent upgrade from ‘back-up parent’ to full time man-in-charge of his two daughters, Scottie and Alexandra, and poor Matt is not having the best time, even if he does live in beautiful Hawaii. Scene-stealer Shailene Woodley plays problem child, Alexandra, transforming what could have been a textbook portrayal of ‘tearaway forced to become a grown-up after a trauma’, into a gentle characterisation of the transformation she must undertake in order to move from drunk child on a beach to holding her father’s hand as an adult.

The story itself is admittedly predictable but, honouring the Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay, The Descendants true successes come through the script itself, understated but nonetheless powerful. Paying almost equal attention to the impact Elizabeth’s illness has on each character’s life, the film’s greatest strength comes from the intricate web of lies spun by a character who never says a word but the consequences of which each character must in turn face. From childhood bullying and ill-advised boyfriends to darker secrets that would have remained hidden, The Descendants unravels each string of the web to reveal the truth that while the most painful of truths can damage the family fortress, it can always be rebuilt.

Another stunning performance from Clooney (notable mention must be given to his ability to run in flip-flops) and a certain one to watch in Shailene Woodley.

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One Response to “The Descendants”

  1. scottydynamite June 24, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    This was one of the best films last year. Enjoyed your review.

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