Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Descendents

Alexander Payne is the writer/director of some of the best films to depict the everyday man. He finds amazing source material and brings characters to life in a way that goes beyond the written word. Whether it be the estranged father performed by Jack Nicholson in "About Schmidt" (2002) or the middle-aged failure performed by Paul Giamatti in "Sideways" (2004), the everyday man is not perfect and neither is his life.

The beginning of "the Descendents" starts with a monologue by George Clooney discussing how even in the perceived paradise of Hawaii nothing is perfect, nothing is what it seems. People from the mainland think that living in Hawaii is a permanent vacation and that the people living there are drinking Mai Tais, shaking their hips and catching waves. "Paradise can go fuck itself". Despite appearances of luxury, simplicity and beauty, life in Hawaii is like anywhere else, the realities of poverty, unhappiness, despair and the rest of it just happens.

"The Descendents" is a novel written by Kaui Hart Hemmings about a father that has a unique and dramatic situation where two important events in his life are crossing paths and coming to an end that is difficult to cope with. The story focuses on Matt King (George Clooney) who is a lawyer with two young girls and a wife, Elizabeth, in the hospital on life support following a boating accident. The family is coping with the quality of life decisions to take Elizabeth off life support. He is also the trustee of an estate that includes the largest undeveloped land in Hawaii that he and the other descendents inherited from Princess Margaret, one of the last direct descendants of King Kamehameha, who fell in love with her haole (Hawaiian for white or foreign) banker, Edward King who was Matt King's great-great-grandfather. The descendents are holding a vote to sell the land as the trust is set to expire in the near future. As difficult as these two events are for Matt King, they are only compounded by the rebellious nature of his daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller); and the discovery of an affair that his wife was having. The business dealings and drama with the other descendents also complicate the decisions being made.

The performances in the film are all very good. The simplicity of George Clooney helps provide a genuine nature to the difficult events that his character is living. Shailene Woodley steals the film with an emotional and private moment in the backyard pool and with her conversations with George Clooney that are beyond her years and experience. With the serious tones in the film a comic relief is provided by the slacker boyfriend (Nick Krause) and the cousin (Beau Bridges) and the grandfather (Robert Forster). With all the positives in the film, I do have some issues with the way the story is told. The use of voice over to advance the story, or to provide background, is annoying to me. Additionally, with the story centering on the hospital and Elizabeth being in a coma there are many moments where the inner dialogue is voiced to express the emotions that the character is feeling. The combination of the voice over and these inner dialogue moments made the film feel a bit forced at times.

This film will easily be nominated for adapted screenplay, best actor (George Clooney), and even a supporting actress nomination (Shailene Woodley). Combined with a solid directorial performance by Alexander Payne and this film could even get nominated for best picture. Another solid 5 Quack film for everyone to enjoy.

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