Student Review Of ‘The Descendants’
Hawaiian Sun Shines Hope Into George Clooney In The Descendants
Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) wrote and directed The Descendants, his first movie since 2004. He has won an Oscar, among other awards. However, I will admit that I have never seen one of his films. I went into this movie with a clean slate and an open opinion on this critically acclaimed writer/director. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. It is hard to keep bias out of your reviews if you know a lot about a movie before you see it. The director or actor’s past films create expectations and stereotypes that often pollute reviews for their new movies. Having never seen a Payne movie before, I can honestly say that I believe he did a fine job with The Descendants.
George Clooney (Ocean’s Eleven, Batman & Robin) plays Matt King, a Hawaiian native who is the sole trustee of 25,000 acres of pristine Kauai land. Since the trust is up in seven years, Matt and his large assortment of cousins are almost through with the process of selling the land for a large amount of money. Selling this land will be a huge financial boost for the Hawaiian island, but also a terrible change in lifestyle for the natives. During this stressful process, Matt’s wife suffered a head injury from a boating accident and is in a coma. Now Matt has to deal with his wife’s condition and learn to be the father he was always too distant to be. His oldest daughter Alexandra is played by Shailene Woodley (The Secret Life of the American Teenager) who was dealing with all of her issues by being sent off to boarding school and drinking at a young age. The youngest daughter Scottie is played by newbie Amara Miller. This is a film about reconnecting with family and doing the right thing for the people you care about.
This film is about a man’s emotional journey, and how that journey takes him to one place, which ends up placing him in another. Matt’s struggle to earn Alexandra’s respect is one that many people can relate to. Their relationship is a complex one fueled by her hatred towards her mother. Matt manages to break down some barriers with her, and she eventually lets him in. They reconcile over the grief they both feel about their comatose mother/wife. Woodley’s breakout performance as Alexandra is the best thing to come out of this film. She finds the elusive combination of emotionally confused daughter, rebellious teenage girl and caring sister that is as beautiful to watch unfold as the waves crashing into the shores of Hawaii. While Scottie is too young for much emotional depth, she does add some comedic relief.
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Clooney’s smooth narration of the film is soothing as it blends into the beautiful backdrop of the story in scenic Hawaii. Despite his trying circumstance, Clooney still manages to work his trademark charm and winning smile into the picture when he eventually makes headway with his daughters. The true testament to the acting job that Clooney pulls off is how the lessons he learns during his family’s trials end up impacting his mindset on the land deal he is being pressured to make. Clooney’s character realizes that selling the location to some company that will only rape the land and exploit the location would destroy families lives. He didn’t earn that land, it just fell into his lap. It is not his to sell. He wants to keep fighting for the protection of the land and protection of the families on Kauai. Why should he ruin their lives when he is only trying to fix his own?
Alexander Payne guides these two very talented actors through a beautifully adapted screenplay in the land of endless sun, sand and vacation. However, like Clooney says at the beginning of the film, the people of Hawaii aren’t on a permanent vacation. Their normal lives play out just like anybody else’s. Bad things happen to good people, as well as normal people. That is where the beauty of the film truly lies: Normal people dealing with bad things.
Overall I’d give it an A-
Release Date: Nov. 18th
Runtime: 115 min.
Alex Dodson | Bright Futura Columnist
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