The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)
A land baron tries to re-connect with his two daughters after his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident.
Back in 2011, the first movie of Alexander Payne in seven years received mixed reviews and was more or less appreciated by movie goers. Starring the Cary Grant of our time, film star George Clooney as the descendant of the last Hawaiian princess with a bunch of cousins owns a huge chunk of land on Kauai Island. They want to sell to a group who wants to put Hotels and condos on this piece of paradise and make a big profit in the transaction. But at the same time, Matt (Clooney) must deal with his wife in a coma from a boat accident. Learning that she’ll be unhooked from the machines that keep her alive, Matt learns from his eldest daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) that his wife had an affair and wanted to leave him for another man. Since, he was too busy with his job it was Elisabeth (Patricia Hastie), his wife, that raised the children and kept the house going. Matt must face his responsibility of taking care of his daughters, arranging the final moments of Elisabeth, and deciding what to do with the land.
With the voiceover, we are share Matt’s thoughts and we understand his mixed feelings towards the man with whom Elisabeth cheated on him, his desperation in his facing of the situation, and his dilemma for the sale. Having been in Hawaii for my honey moon in August 2011 I feel that the essence of these people has been very well assimilated by the script and I can sense that the original material was true to the protection of the land that the natives cherish. The narrated opening of the film with Clooney telling how the perception of paradise of Hawaii from the people of the continent might be not as picture perfect as many would think. It’s just that it has its own culture and way of living.
The indie feeling of this comedy meets drama might get on some people’s nerves since the line isn’t always very clear; some situations might even be funny when they weren’t really supposed to. However, this is a very good script and I think that without an actor like George Clooney the character of Matt King would have felt a little flat. And as Jeffrey M. Anderson mentioned it, the film has its moments of bliss while other parts are unequal. I liked the pace and the very simple but beautiful photography. It’s not very difficult to take a breathtaking image of Hawaii, but the use of colors and textures captures the essence of the land.
Alexander Payne’s fifth picture isn’t a great film neither a bad film and once again he puts the accent on a middle aged man having to face a crisis that will bring him to be a better man, model, and human being. Payne’s ability to present believable human characters under a multitude of angles is giving them more than just a simple color. He gives them many shades and colors just like the rainbows that represent the state of Hawaii. This is a sensibility that few talented directors have in their craft.