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The Descendants

A 2011 movie directed by Alexander Payne.

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It's Hawaii, but It's Not Paradise

  • Nov 17, 2011
Rating:
+4
Star Rating:


The Descendants, adapted from the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, shows that people can always surprise us, no matter how well we think we know them. It tells the story Matt King (George Clooney), who may live in Hawaii but doesn’t live in paradise. His wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), lies in a coma in a Honolulu hospital following a boating accident; only after finding out that she will never reawaken, only after deciding to take her off life support, does he finally learn that she had been cheating on him. He found out from, of all people, his seventeen-year-old daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), who fought with her mother after catching her with another man. Even now, as she lies in a hospital bed with her mouth agape and an air tube sticking out of her throat, Alexandra remains angry and rebellious – a boarding school party girl who’s first seen as a belligerent drunk.
 
The details of the affair are for the most part not discussed. The best we get is a close friend telling Matt that Elizabeth was unhappy in the marriage. We, of course, will never know what share of the blame she deserves. It is clear, however, that Matt has been distant from his family. If he were engaged, it wouldn’t be a matter of missing the telltale signs of an affair, which are very hard to hide; it would be a matter of her not wanting to cheat on him at all. He’s a lawyer by trade, and a successful one at that. Despite this, he isn’t one to let himself or his family spend money recklessly. According to his opening narration, Elizabeth considered this stinginess. He considers it the best piece of advice his father gave him: Give them enough money to do something, but not so much that they do nothing.

                                               
                                                 
He never had to be so actively involved in the life of the younger daughter, ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller), who seems understandably confused by it all. He was always the backup parent, the understudy. Now that Elizabeth is dying, he has no choice. Although his primary reason for retrieving Alexandra from boarding school was to give her the chance to say goodbye to her mother, there’s no escaping the fact that he also wanted help raising Scottie. He even tells her at one point that he has no idea what to do. I was torn between admiring his honesty and wondering why he got married and had children in the first place. I would not classify him as a workaholic, but he’s definitely not a family man. Even during the periods where he gets along with his children, it’s obvious that the connection is weak.
 
Matt has more on his plate than the impending death of his wife. He’s the trustee of his family’s ancestral lands, a beautiful patch of virgin soil where Elizabeth and Alexandra used to go camping. He’s under pressure to sell the land, which will be developed into a luxury resort and commercial complex. Obviously, Hawaii doesn’t have enough of those already. It’s a family affair, with most of those involved being his cousins. The most prominent is Hugh (Beau Bridges), with the long, windblown hair and a vocabulary partially influenced by surfer dudes. They’re all the descendants of a Hawaiian princess and a missionary, who married sometime in the nineteenth century. Many of them feel entitled and would like Matt to make the sale. The select few that don’t are pretty much in line with the entire population of Hawaii.

                                               
                                                 
Eventually, Matt learns the name of Elizabeth’s lover and decides to confront him – and allow him the opportunity to say goodbye to Elizabeth. So begins a cross-island search for a realtor named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), who’s wife, Julie (Judy Greer), could not be sweeter. Along for the trip are Scottie, Alexandra, and Alexandra’s friend, Sid (Nick Krause). Sid has the appearance of an idiotic beach bum, and indeed, he possesses the uncanny ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Case in point: He’s punched by Elizabeth’s perpetually angry father (Robert Forster), who can never address Matt or Alexandra without resorting to personal attacks. That being said, Sid understands the situation better than Matt gives him credit for.
 
One of the strengths of The Descendants is that it doesn’t have an emotional arc. It runs the gamut from solemn to hilarious to heartbreaking to inspirational, much like life itself during times of stress and uncertainty. The best scenes all take place in Elizabeth’s hospital room, where various characters have one-sided conversations of surprising depth and power. What they and the rest of the film so expertly demonstrate is something so true and yet so often glossed over in the movies: People are imperfect and complex. When tragedy fractures a family, there will inevitably be a long and difficult process of healing. There is no one way to go about it, and there certainly isn’t a fixed time for everything to work itself out. There’s no guarantee that anything will work out at all. But if there’s love somewhere within, perhaps it’s possible for life to go on.

                                                    

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November 17, 2011
This does seem to have an interesting premise so I may check it out soon or on dvd. I like the way you said that people are imperfect and complex...it makes life more interesting. I guess I can see this one since "Twilight: Breaking Dawn" is not my thing at all, I would be wasting my time if I ever went to see it. Thanks!
November 19, 2011
This is a very good movie, and I hope you have the chance to see it while it's still in theaters.
 
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More The Descendants (2011 movie) reviews
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Director Alexander Payne has previously directed movies such as the cult classic Electionn starring Reese Witherspoon, which I own, About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson, and Sideways starring Paul Giamatti, nominated for five Oscars winning one.    Gregory Peck once said it's hard to make a good man look interesting.    You can probably imagine in a cinematic world peopled with antiheroes, flawed heroes, or unrealistic superheroes, how refreshing it might …
review by . February 08, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Say YES to Hawaii
This is a movie about family, trust, betrayal and acceptance. And, it is one that's based in Hawaii.   So, for less than $10, one gets to see Hawaii and George Clooney. That's a bargain, I think! ;-)      The descendants is not a feel-good film. It is one that despite being filmed in the paradise island of Hawaii (and actually got me seriously thinking about settling down here one fine day!) it focuses on major theme of a person's life (same for most of …
review by . September 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Paradise offers no king immunity from care
Director Alexander Payne has previously directed movies such as the cult classic Electionn starring Reese Witherspoon, which I own, About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson, and Sideways starring Paul Giamatti, nominated for five Oscars winning one.      Gregory Peck once said it's hard to make a good man look interesting.      You can probably imagine in a cinematic world peopled with antiheroes, flawed heroes, or unrealistic superheroes, how refreshing …
review by . February 19, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
After winning the Golden Globe for Best DramaThe Descendants have to be one of the front runners to walk away with Best Picture along with several other awards in the big night. If The Artist represents everything that is happy and good, than The Descendants may be the exact opposite. The difference in tone may decide which film walks away with the statuette. The Descendants is both funny and devastating and captures the moments in life we fear the most with eloquence.   …
review by . December 24, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
The Descendants is a beautiful film shot in Hawaii. This film showcases the beauty of Hawaii well.  I love the shots of the valleys and beaches.  I live here so this is something I see every day.  George Clooney stars as Matt King.  He is a father trying to raise his daughters after his wife goes into a coma after a boating accident.        Matt learns from his teenage daughter that his wife was carrying on an affair at the time of her accident.  …
review by . December 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
That's the first thing Matt King (George Clooney) wants you to get into your head. King is a real estate lawyer that just happens to be the trustee of his family's 25 pristine Kaui estate who is about to go through a valley of hardship. Spoilers included below.                                          &nbs …
Quick Tip by . April 14, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Caption
      Pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed this movie. It channels the right themes, right application of dialogue and the performances were good in a way that fit its premise. I am not a George Clooney fan, but even I have to admit that he did well in this movie. Could be his best outing since “The American” and “Up in the Air”.      The direction by Alexander Payne kept focused on the things that could’ve been; it is a story …
review by . April 22, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Somber look at a dysfunctional family
When Matt King’s (George Clooney) wife goes into a coma, he realizes how distant he was from her and from his two daughters. Then he learns his wife was cheating on him.      George Clooney plays against type as a clueless father and husband with baggy eyes and a beaten-down face. He slouches through the story and generally looks pretty ordinary. He’s good in the role, but not good enough to save the movie. My first problem with it is the constant profanity used by …
review by . November 14, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'The Descendants' 'Two Jews On Film' Can't Feel The Heart In Clooney's Latest Family Dramedy (Video)
      When 'The Descendants' directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways) started, I really expected to love it.  I mean, the film is set in Hawaii, there's a woman in a coma, and it stars George Clooney.      Unfortunately, I had quite a different experience.  I didn't hate this film, but I did find my mind wandering...thinking about my overweight dog who needs to go on a diet...Definitely not a good sign.      …
review by . February 03, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Matt King's (George Clooney) wife Elizabeth has been in a coma in the hospital for almost four weeks. She was involved in a boating accident. Also, Matt, one of several descendants of a Hawaiian princess, is the sole trustee of a family trust that controls over 25,000 acres of untouched land on the island of Kaua'i. Matt must decide for his family what is to be done with the land. At the same time, he's given the news that his wife will never recover and she has a living will, so all …
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Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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Director: Alexander Payne
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Release Date: 23 November 2011 (USA)
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon
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