Trouble will follow you even if you live in paradise. Such is the central idea behind George Clooney’s Oscar-nominated movie, The Descendants. Shot in the beautiful islands of Hawaii, the film is about Matthew King (George Clooney), a hard-working lawyer, husband and father. Matthew’s life is turned upside down by a speed-boat accident which leaves his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) in a coma. Being a typical workaholic father, he has no idea what to do with his loud-mouthed 10-year-old daughter Scotty (Amara Miller) and equally annoying 17-year-old daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley).
In the beginning of the movie, we find that Elizabeth was having an affair while Matthew was hard at work at the office. It is also revealed that Matthew is the sole beneficiary of a family trust that controls 25,000 acres of pristine land on the island of Kaua’i, Hawaii. The trust will expire in seven years because of the rule against perpetuities, so the King family has to decide to sell the land to Kaua’i native Don Holitzer for development. If that wasn’t enough, the doctor arrives with terrible news. Elizabeth’s coma is permanent, and she’ll die when they take her off life support.
The Descendants is an intimate film about the challenges of family life. These are characters that are both suffering from and trying to overcome a painful loss. Weaving together drama and comedy, the film is laced with poignant moments that earn every laugh and every tear, but the most striking and satisfying aspects of The Descendants is its unhurried pace and loose, wandering structure.
The soundtrack is haunting, exclusively featuring Hawaiian music. The music does a great job capturing the mood and feel of Hawaii, and even though you wouldn’t know exactly what the words mean, somehow you feel like they are just perfect for each of the scenes. What was surprising about this movie was that the dialogues were very simple, peppered here and there with a few expletives, which seemed appropriate under the circumstances.
The Descendants is a beautiful character study of common people dealing with common and uncommon family dilemmas and shows how even the most dysfunctional of families can sometimes come together and help one another in their time of need.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 19th, 2012.