By Sr. Rose Pacatte, F.S.P.
Matt King (George Clooney) is a wealthy landowner in Hawaii. He is the sole trustee of a huge piece of land that he and his extended family inherited from their Hawaiian royal ancestors that intermarried with white settlers. His wife, however, is in a coma, actually brain dead, from a jet ski accident. His eldest daughter, Alex, is 17 and is in an extremely expensive boarding school meant to mend the girl’s wild ways that have developed because of parental neglect. Then there is Scottie, his ten year-old daughter, who is sweet and neglected as well.
Matt must decide about selling the land because Hawaiian law now demands that large holdings must be broken up for development or preserved. Matt’s relatives want to sell to a local developer even though a mainland corporation has offered more money.
Matt is a man caught in the middle who must look in the mirror and decide to open his eyes and take responsibility for his family and the land entrusted to him.
Matt learns some disturbing news about his wife from Alexis that leads to complications with the real estate deal. Alexis insists on bringing along her friend Sid (Nick Krause) as they try to uncover hidden secrets and Matt agrees because she says she will be better behaved with Sid around. Sid provides much of the humor and one of the most touching scenes in the film.
“The Descendants” is meant to be a dramedy, and it’s an okay movie but ultimately unsatisfying. Matt has his two daughters and together they will be all right. Perhaps this ending is more realistic than any other could be. I did not read the 2008 novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, so I don’t know if the film represents the book well. Director Alexander Payne, who gave us the brilliant “Sideways,” does a proficient job here, but with three writers tackling the script, I think something got lost in translation from novel to film.
I have to wonder why George Clooney looks so small in the film; every other male actor is several inches taller and more burly than he is. Perhaps the contrast is to show his vulnerability, but it didn’t work for me. I think Paul Giammati would have been better cast in the role of Matt.
It has a bitterweetness about it, a loss, and something gained. But it lacked soul to me, a sense of continuance, that special something would continue to grow and blossom, even though Matt says that they will be all right. Maybe they will be.
The younger generation is made up of lonely rich kids; Matt’s generation is made up of middle-aged people waiting around for a financial windfall, and the grandparents are lonely and slowly losing their mental powers.
Is this all life is meant to be? “The Descendents” is a short circuit of a film; it goes in a circle and only hints at breaking out.
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