Life is hard, even in paradise. If I could sum up The Descendants in one phrase, that would have to be it.
George Clooney’s opening voice-over sums up the feelings shared by most people living on mainland Hawaii. We all want to believe that somehow life is easier in one of our favourite vacation spots when in reality the people living there have lives and problems. It is just easier to hit the waves when you do not think that the lives of the people renting you your surfboard might be difficult in any fashion.
Based on the book of the same name, The Descendants stars George Clooney as Matt King, a Hawaiian lawyer and sole trustee of a massive piece of land, who is dealing with the aftermath of an accident that left his wife in a devastating coma that she may not come out of. It is an exploration of their family dynamic and the revelations about that kind of dynamic that only seem to come at horrific times. A workaholic by nature, King must reconnect with his young daughters while dealing with an impending massive land deal and the decision to remove his wife from life support.
In the context of the story, King is a descendant of King Kamehameha I, aka Kamehameha the Great, who established the Kingdom of Hawai’i in 1810. As part of their heritage, the King family owns 25,000 acres of what can only be described as pristine land on the island of Kaua’i and is in talks with numerous parties who are looking to buy and develop.
To describe The Descendants as engaging does not even come close to doing it justice. You cannot help but be engrossed in Matt King’s story, as it moves between the family drama of the accident and the family drama of the land transaction. The driving force of this story comes from the ways in which the two stories intertwine and intersect, how personal and business are rarely separate when family is involved.
In addition to George Clooney, the cast includes Beau Bridges, Robert Forster, Mary Birdsong, Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard, each of whom shine in key roles. The two young actresses who play King’s daughters, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, deliver superb performances throughout the film. And, as odd as it sounds, Nick Krause was the highlight of the movie for me as Sid, a friend of one of King’s daughters. His offbeat performance as he accompanies the King family through the trials they face adds lighthearted comic relief to a story and a great external perspective that brings depth to a number of scenes.
The winner of a Golden Globe for Best Picture–Drama and Best Actor–Drama for George Clooney, The Descendants also picked up an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. The group that adapted the original book by Kaui Hart Hemmings, who cameos as Matt King’s secretary, included the talents of Jim Rash, aka Dean Pelton from Community. Yes, the Dean from Community has an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, which is fantastic.
The Descendants is a recent addition to Netflix and a great one. It is not the usual kind of film I watch but I am glad I did. It is moving and touching in all the right places, and is filled with the kind of human moments virtually anyone can connect to.
Ian Goodwillie is a columnist for the Spectator Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @ThePrairieGeek and on Tumblr at iangoodwillie.tumblr.com.
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