It’s not quite Mr Deeds, but it’s no Citizen Kane either

Oh, George Clooney. The humour, the charm, the smile. That silver fox is at it again in The Descendants. Because if you like Clooney, then get ready. This film gives you a large dose of that good old Clooney persona.

The Descendants is based on a novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings. The title of the film and novel refers to the descendants of the Princess Ka’iulani of Hawaii and naturally, the film takes place on the island paradise.  The main character, Matt King (Clooney), has such a grand background, yet his problems are the same as everyone else’s – for the most part.

King is the sole trust holder over a large, untouched piece of land in Hawaii.  The trust is set to dissolve in seven years and the many descended cousins of the princess are trying to decide what should be done about it. The general agreement is to sell the land to developers who want to build condos. King also seems okay with this decision.

The real problem is that King’s wife is in a coma after a boat racing accident. At first he goes through remorse and despair, promising to be a good husband. He also doesn’t know how he will move forward and take care of their two daughters.

But then the plot thickens. It turns out Mrs King had been having an affair before her accident. King goes on an emotional rollercoaster after that. The actions he must take in order to move forward are not always easy, but ultimately he manages the best he can.

Clooney is at his finest and yet the performance given felt like a performance seen many times before. The children, especially the eldest daughter (Woodley), gave strong and believable performances.

The characters are all well written and have something deeper to reveal, which adds flavor and intrigue. These are not stereotypes we are dealing with. One gets the feeling that what we see is only a taste of who these people are: that the characters have real motivations and backstories. This creates a nice dynamic where one is never entirely sure which direction the film will go in.
The Descendants is charming and beautiful, with both its funny and sad moments. It has unexpected elements and a relatively unique story. All in all, it is an enjoyable film to watch.

The films begins with a heavy-handed voiceover from Clooney. Much of the voiceover felt heavy-handed and unnecessary. Using voiceover with book-to-film adaptations is pretty common, because the mediums are so different. But it is better to show, not tell.

The point of the film was that everyone everywhere has the same problems; therefore the film did not focus that much on the land deal. It was certainly a unique situation and even the affair was dealt with in a unique way, yet the overall story was fairly simple. Hawaii is featured in the details and in the background. It would have been nice if Hawaii and the land deal played a bigger role.

For example, how do the cousins feel about selling the land that they inherited? Why do some of the cousins have conflicting ideas about who to sell to? The reason the cousins are pushing to sell is that they were irresponsible with their money and now they need this in order to be wealthy again. How were they irresponsible? These are the details that were missed or brushed over. After all, it would have been nice to know more about the descendants.

The Descendants

Dir: Alexander Payne; US comedy/drama, 2011, 115 mins; George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller
Premiered February 16
Playing nationwide