Tragic & Heartwarming
A teenage girl sunbathes on the beach, her kid sister playing in the sea; their father sits a few meters away, wearing a printed Hawaiian shirt. They are on what you can call a holiday but they are not happy.
The same teenage girl sits on the edge of the pool in her big beautiful house. She’s on phone when her father comes in and wants to talk to her about something serious. She tells him the pool is dirty.
This is Alexander Payne’s masterpiece, The Descendants, based on a novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Set in the rain drenched and sun kissed islands of Hawaii, Payne’s film overflows with the beauty of its setting. This beauty is in contrast with the tragic situation the film’s key characters find themselves in. The director involves viewers as spectators as the King family drama unfolds in a bitter-sweet manner.
Matt King (George Clooney) is a lawyer who is also a descendant of the Hawaiian royal family. He is the sole trustee of the King family trust that controls 25,000 acres of land on the island of Kauai. The trust will dissolve in seven years due to a rule against perpetuities and the extended family decides to sell the land and share the proceeds. While Matt is involved in making the major decision to sell his ancestral land, his wife meets with a boating accident and slips into a coma. Matt suddenly finds himself dealing with the tragedy and also his two daughters, a ten-year-old (Amara Miller as Scottie King) who doesn’t understand the extent of her mother’s illness and a seventeen-year-old (Shailene Woodley as Alex King) who is bitter and has drug/alcohol issues.
The Descendants is brilliantly adapted for screen by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash; it moves at a slow pace letting you absorb the setting and giving you time to feel the protagonist’s pain and dilemma. At the same time, the use of subtle humour and Hawaiian music does not let the film slip into the depressing drama territory.
Watch The Descendants for a beautifully crafted and presented story; watch it for its emotions and the themes it touches – love, loyalty, responsibility and family. Do not watch it for a suave Clooney as he’s anything but that in the film; but watch it for his fine performance of a man who is re-discovering his relationship with his daughters and his land.
Watch it if you love cinema.
PS: I have not rated this film as I find the star system flawed. However, please share your views if you think it should be there. I’ll follow what you decide going forward.