‘My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise’ says Matt King (George Clooney) in some of the first lines of the movie. And just as it proceeds to unravel the story about a man, who traverses through the magnificent Hawaiian grounds in order to challenge his problems and finally accept his better feelings, we gradually realize that the so-called paradise might have been long lost.
Alexander Payne is a specialist in making movies about men, who embark on a journey deep into their own minds, just to clarify their own emotions and feelings, and get ahold of the issues that have been troubling them.
The Descendants is yet another one of his masterpieces, definitely deserving all the rave reviews and Oscar nods (it’s a pity that it didn’t get more statues though).
The aforementioned Matt King is a descendant of one of the first white people inhabiting Hawaii’s islands. His wife Elizabeth just had a boating accident and is in a coma, without any close chances of waking up. He is also struggling with the thoughts of selling the huge amounts of acres of land that he inherited. Of course, along come some legal issues. And if this wasn’t enough, he finds out that his wife was cheating on him for some time. What is there to do? Matt has to find an ultimate solution to all of his ensuing problems, the one that will solve all of them with just one sufficient answer.
The road towards that goal is long and winding. He has to take care of his two daughters, who actually don’t seem to be too fond of him and have a few issues of their own. He has to deal with the remaining members of the family (namely the irritating cousins), who, possessed by greed, are ready to sell the land right this minute. He has the great pleasure of meeting the man, with whom Elizabeth was having an affair, and his ostentatious wife Julia.
Matt has to go through many difficulties and sacrifices in order to find a way to a possible happy ending. It’s there, I might tell you, but everything in-between isn’t in any way connected to the notion of a light-hearted tale. Quite the contrary.
And Alexander Payne definitely got the right man to do the job. George Clooney is able to create a character of flesh and bones, the one that the viewer may find the most convincing. In his performance he shows that all of Matt’s problems are really his problems too, and he can relate to them in such a way, that makes this role one of the best in his entire career.
I should also mention that Shailene Woodley is brilliant as Alexandra, Matt’s older daughter, who has a bit of a drinking problem and a slow-witted boyfriend on her hands. In the process, she transforms from a child into a woman, being clearly the intelligent girl that she deserves to be. She provides the needed support when her father is near a breakdown.
The Descendants is definitely one of the most interesting movies of 2011, because with its moving tale it’s able to absorb the viewer’s attention and make him think and reminisce about his own life experiences. Matt King has finally found an answer to what’s been ailing him, and through his bizarre, yet sad, adventures everyone can learn.