The Descendants Reviewed by Heidi Nast
The Descendants directed by Alexander Payne and written by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash opens with Oscar buzz rumors twirling around George Clooney’s role as Matt King. A beautifully scripted character development throughout the film, beginning with Matt’s daughter’s Shailene Woodley as Alexandra, a precocious 17 year-old attending prep school and her 10 year old naive sister Amara Miller as Scottie. Nick Krause stars as Sid, the quintessential surfer dude cohort that is attached to Alexandra’s hip, much to her father’s chagrin, who grows on you like an orchid indigenous to a tropical setting, by the end of the movie. There is a guest appearance from Beau Bridges, as the entitled cousin, one of 24 that hover around a complex family decision. Patricia Hastie stars as Matt’s wife Elizabeth, whose role is powerful; but silent, with her not-so-silent heartbroken father, Robert Forster that pulls at any parents’ heartstrings, as he laments about Daddy’s little girl.
The King family represents a multi-generational dynasty that has made millions passed down over the years from land purchased by their great-great-great grandmother’s husband. With every sell the King family amassed incomprehensible wealth, and has done nothing to deserve it, coupled with the inherited distaste of the King dynasty from the Hawaiian citizens. What will Matt do, as the attorney and sole trustee in making the ultimate family decision, develop or leave the land pristine, and what about the heirs?
So now we understand that the King family rules; but can it buy happiness with each other, with their children and their wives in this land of paradise? As Matt says in the opening line of the movie, “It’s assumed that living in Hawaii is paradise, Paradise can go F*@! Itself.” He’s in a marriage that’s broken. They haven’t spoken in months and now his wife has just been in a terrible boating accident, decisions need to be made and yet he feels like the back-up father, the understudy. This marriage defines unrequited distance, absence, resentment and anger with justifiable behaviors that counter a lack of closeness that binds a marriage together.
Alexandra is old enough and wise enough to see her parents’ imperfections, their bad choices and shares in her dad’s anger. Elizabeth’s dad is angry too — angry that Matt was so stingy with his wealth, that his own wife lost her voice many years ago, and now his daughter has lost her voice too. And let’s not forget the surfer dude Sid that gets a well deserved shiner and suffers his own recent loss. Without expressing the painful commonalities that Sid and Alexandria uniquely share; it is their unspoken words that hold their friendship together; an attribute Alexandra’s parents couldn’t do for each other.
The cinematography is breathtaking, The Descendants makes you laugh and cry, it’s a movie about human frailties, of complex connections that cannot be bought, but a priceless commodity that must be nurtured, protected, a creed to personal relationships that is much greater than a deed to land.