Widely considered the archetype of natural beauty, Hawaii is often portrayed as paradise on Earth with visions of its constant sunshine, sparkling beaches and flawlessly pretty people dancing across the minds of Americans. “The Descendants” dispels that illusion by revealing clandestine issues between the state’s inhabitants alongside the backdrop of paradise.
Matt King (George Clooney) is a descendant of Hawaiian royalty and has inherited significant portions of land in the state. He is the sole member to remain in his family who has had the ability to maintain his wealth. He has accomplished this by keeping his inherited land and living frugally. While it may seem he has it all, Matt is conflicted with inner issues. Matt’s family wants him to sign away the rest of their untouched land to real estate and tourism developers. Although doing this would greatly benefit his family, Matt is unsure of what to do.
Matt points out his family’s dysfunction by describing them as an archipelago: whole in form but drifting apart. As Matt became more invested in his work and his wife worked to push her limits in extreme sports, his marriage struggled to survive. His wife later becomes bed-ridden, paralyzed in an irreversible coma after a boating accident.
Matt’s distant relationship with his daughters has left him confused as he struggles to assist them through tumultuous waves of adolescence and grief. His youngest daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), is a foul-mouthed troublemaker who constantly struggles to resolve her issues due to the absence of her father. Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) is the eldest; irreverent and confrontational, she lives life recklessly and always speaks her mind. Caught up in a moment of passion, Alexandra reveals to her father that his wife cheated on him. Matt, upset and determined, seeks to confront the other man.
The dialogue is witty and often humorous, providing a “dramedy” feel, common to the films of Alexander Payne, which include “About Schmidt” and “Election.” The characters are specially crafted with layers that add rich meaning and interesting conflict to the plot. The acting is impressive throughout, with Clooney playing his usual role as the charming character. The young actors in the film do a magnificent job of carrying the emotional weight of the film while also adding sharp humor.
Hawaii has been shot on film a million times over, and the cinematography mostly works on the level it’s always been photographed, always featuring the dazzling landscape of the islands. The stereotypical dazzling landscape of the islands that is commonly seen in other films with the same setting makes the film fall victim to all-too-familiar breezy montages. Fortunately, there are more uniquely shot scenes, specifically in the rain-soaked beach scenes that portray muted colors among foggy landscapes. This is where the film runs a little long, resorting excessively to all too familiar breezy montages. But there are more uniquely shot scenes, specifically in the rain soaked scenes on the beaches that portray beautifully muted colors among foggy landscapes.
The film contains interesting character development, and the dialogue successfully deals with the emotional complexities of the family. For a good-hearted film that’s stimulating on an intellectual and comedic level, or if you really like the way Hawaii looks, “The Descendants” is a film that should be caught in theaters.
Adam Abdelmaksoud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.