In this edition of jaen’s refrain you’ll find:
- Movie Synopsis
- Movie Review
This drama with a comic edge is an adaptation of the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, set in Hawaii and follows a man in a bit of a mid-life rutt and the lives that revolve around him. His life must come quickly into focus as he is responsible for handling 2 looming and very important family matters.
The Descendants mood and main heart is quickly set with a fantastic opening monologue delivered by Matt King the lead character of this piece played so brilliantly by George Clooney. He describes how so many people think living in Hawaii is such paradise for everyone with a mix of vacation clichés involving sun, sand and fancy drinks; but he notes cynically how he personally hasn’t touched a surfboard in years.
We watch Matt & those around him deal with two compelling main journeys. Both of these journeys are spiritual and difficult which while under the fantastic direction of Alexander Payne unfold so naturally; but eventually collide. At the start of the film, Matt’s world is turned upside down by a tragedy that is deeply painful and challenging experienced along with his two daughters played sharply by the beautiful Shailene Woodley as Alexandra King and precociously by the adorable Amara Miller as Scottie King. In addition to this intimate family drama, Matt has also been entrusted with a huge looming decision as the Trustee of his extended family fortune; a decision which will not only impact his entire family but everyone on the island.
Matt King is the driving force behind this film. He is a relatable, hard working, overwhelmed husband and father who’s gotten lost in the details of making a living; thereby like so many of us, neglecting far more important matters closer to home. He’s under pressure from all sides and is being pummeled by and having to bob and weave around new bombshells along the way. Matt inspires me. He’s flawed as we all are but he’s smart, funny, fiery, compassionate and a little bit obsessive at times. Most people if presented with Matt’s situation would be purely reactive and impetuous. I loved that at almost every turn, he took action but just cautiously enough allowing each layer for the viewer to satisfyingly unfold. Sayings like, “Don’t rush to get it wrong” and “Some things are better left unsaid” both come to mind. Ultimately, Matt’s just a good guy who wants to do what he thinks is right and not hurt anyone in the process.
The Descendants may well be the vehicle by which George will garner his first Academy award win. I hope so! Last year I was so… rooting for him to win for his Oscar nominated performance in “Up In The Air”, but he lost the statuette to Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart”. I was never drawn to George like most every other woman on the planet until I saw “Oh Brother Where Art Thou”. It was then that I saw not only his wit and bravado; but his intelligence and venerability which he took to another level in “Up In The Air” and now, while his performance in The Descendants is a much more subtle, quirky and heartbreaking performance; George, once again shows his comedic prowess, likeability and dramatic range. Go George Go!
The Descendants is fast paced and forward moving even during the slower more dramatic moments as the dialogue, performances and direction build tension and hold your attention from scene to scene. One of my favorite movies ever is Sideways directed by Alexander Payne and Mr. Payne brings the same honest, quirky and natural touch to The Descendants. What both movies contain in their characters and journey is a bit of unpredictability. Like real life, sometimes usually predictable people behave in a way that might be uncharacteristic to them as they get pushed to the edge. As The Descendants unfolded I was rooting these characters on to do or say something that perhaps the average person might not do or say and to my enjoyment they did. As people in modern society we try so hard to be well behaved; but because we’re flawed, we sometimes snap and that makes for a perfect comedy without feeling forced or over the top.
While the script is so well written, I was wondering if some viewers may be offended by the language from the younger characters. In terms of “modern” language I can tell you that my younger and very intelligent teenage family members sometimes do speak offensively, mirroring what’s around them. It just is what it is and as I got further into the film this started to feel less repellent.
One of the more enjoyable supporting characters is Sid played by Nick Krause. He’s kinda just plopped into the framework in a strange way as Alexandra’s friend from school. He almost annoyed me the viewer as much as he did Alexandra’s dad (Matt); but he provides some nice comic moments and eventually grew on me. Towards the end, my Sid experience was a tad ruined by a dramatic scene with Matt and Sid wherein the script (I feel) tries awkwardly to explain by way of digging a little bit into Sid’s character why he might fit into Alexandra’s life at this time. It was a bit too little too late in the film, as I would have rather Sid had just stayed the juvenile and strange friend we know little about who slipped into the film in an odd manner. This however, is the only flaw I found with this film; hardly enough to still not rave about it.
There are also small but strong performances by Matthew Lillard (nice to see him in an adult role), Judy Greer and veteran actors like: Robert Forster and Beau Bridges.
Two stand out lines from the movie for me were:
“Go ahead and sue me – it will bring us closer together!”
(In regards to money) – “Give our children enough to do something but not so much as to do nothing!”
Music: Of course being a singer-songwriter I always notice the score and source music which often times is like an additional character. Music once again here plays such a big part in setting the mood and helping establish the location of this film with so many beautiful Hawaiian songs. Congratulations to the wonderfully talented Daniel Ho for his performance with Ozzie Kotani on the song Paka Uawhich is featured in the movie and the movie soundtrack.
Quite a few of the more intimate scenes paralleled my life a lil’ too closely and so my experience with a small handful of scenes included a couple big sighs, quiet sobs and wet cheeks. Bring some tissue or a long sleeve shirt with you just in case.
It will make you laugh and cry. Don’t miss this wonderful movie with moving performances!
In theaters now.
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