The Descendants (2011)

My friends on the mainland think just because I leave in Hawaii, I live in paradise, like a permanent vacation. We’re all just out here, sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, catching waves. Are they insane? Do they think we are immune to life? How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our cancers less fatal, our heartache less painful?Reference

An opening sequence of a film is meant to capture you, grab you at the shoulders and shake you vigorously, yet still make you want to watch the remaining 115 minutes. The Descendants did exactly that with the opening monologue by Matt King (George Clooney), as you sit there and think for a second, “well yeah, I guess that’s true”.

This film isn’t any different to your usual dysfunctional family, who happens to be in a pickle where some loved one is on the brink of death, while the main character has to stop being the reserved number two character and actually fulfil their role, growing into the person they always talk about in their voice over. But, and always a but, there are hints of universal relationship that makes this a film worth watching.

It’s often rare, or unlikely that you’ll find a film that everybody can relate to – and by everybody I mean every single person in the world. Films (and television shows) that try to emulate a “family” in modern society always end up with either an excellent comedy or poorly executed drama (The Simpsons, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Modern Family, American Beauty, National Lampoon’s, the list goes on [seriously come on]).

These films and television programmes end up striking it big with our happy side of life, the nature knowing that what we are seeing is fake, materialised, and fabricated for our enjoyment. However, I am not going to lie, The Descendants does tread in this water trying to make itself a little lighter than what the situation really is (more later on), but overall it connects with the individual at a father, teenager, youngster, grandparent, relative, under achiever, or on a low self esteem level. Characters in the film actually seemed genuine –except a knock out punch and a conversation here and there– enough to place this family in any system of society and say, “that’s me”.

The story runs off the wealth of King, and his ancestors that made the land (Hawaii) as it is presented in the film. The story doesn’t linger too long –borderlined– on the coma of King’s wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), but rather focuses on the objective of B parent understanding, learning, and coping with becoming the A parent.

This is something I’m sure will resonate strongly with many folk, and the learning curve would be phenomenally challenging. Although the focus on not using the stereotypical “Hawaiian” emotion of not worrying, and it’s cool is what the film aimed to achieve, but unfortunately it trampled into that territory, and squatted for a good minority of scenes. That is the only major downfall I saw for the film.

Last Notes:

For the first time I would like to commend the director, Alexander Payne, for actually leaving the swimming pool full of leaves, and scenes so out of the world of “Hollywood perfection”. We live in the age of understanding, and fooleries of emotions are slowly slipping from the “top dogs” due to the internet and immediate answers. Subtle “incorrections” make the film feel that more authentic.

Shailene Woodley, also you have a bright future in the film industry projecting one of the most authentic troubled teenagers I have seen in recent film years. That, and you look like Natalie Portman (and that is a HUGE bonus).