As I sit here attempting to define this film, I am realizing that it isn’t as simple as saying there is a storyline with a beginning, a middle and then an end. Although there IS a starting point in this movie, there are such complex characters and so many different emotions happening throughout the film that it defies simple examination. On the surface it’s about how a family deals with the emotional impact of a mother and wife being comatose after a boating accident. Underneath though, there are many other things happening, and it’s in the development of the multiple storylines that the characters grow together and make the final moment of the film the most poignant.
If there is one thing that Alexander Payne can do, it’s paint ordinary life. In this film that he has written and directed, he creates lives that are shattered but then puts the pieces all back in their places by the end of the film. It’s masterful storytelling and he does it almost effortlessly. Much like his other films (which include “Election,” “Sideways,” and “About Schmidt”), “The Descendants” is more of a study of human nature than it is entertainment. And that’s what makes it special.
George Clooney is Matt King, a lawyer who lives in Hawaii with his family and who is, by default, the heir of a huge chunk of land in the Hawaiian islands. While trying to negotiate a deal to part with the land, his wife is in a boating accident, causing him to have to deal with not only her hospitalization, but also with renewing his relationship with his daughters (played wonderfully by newcomers Shailene Woodley & Amara Miller). Add that his wife has also been cheating on him (which was unbeknownst to him) and things get very complicated.
The cast is top notch, the videography is beautiful (how can you go wrong in Hawaii, after all?) and the script is excellent. This will be high on the list of Oscar nominations at the end of the year, I’m sure.
Overall Rating: A