Descendants, The (2011)
Release Date: November 16th, 2011 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Alexander Payne Actors: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer
he subject matter of “The Descendants” is nothing short of morbidly depressing. The characters at the heart of the story are subjected to the tragedies and emotions that most people avoid, yet often experience anyway. One might think this would cause empathy and a connection with its audience, yet the protagonists’ reactions to these incidents are primarily confusing, awkward, and uncomfortable. The film attempts to convert this unease into laughs, and while there are moments of hilarity, the whimsical and offbeat humor never matches the mood or severity of the events that transpire. This contradictory nature extends beyond the clashing of comedy with doleful calamity, finding its way into the characters’ thoughts and even the setting. The opening narration indelicately reveals to us that the paradisical notions of Hawaii are a farce – the people of the tropical state encounter the same problems and misfortunes that everyone faces. Why then does stereotypically serene Hawaiian music attempt to permeate every moment of reflection? And camera pans across idyllic landscapes so heavy-handedly fill transitions?
When his wife is gravely injured in a boating accident, Matt King (George Clooney) attempts to reconnect with his two young daughters. But both 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) become even more rebellious and Matt struggles to keep his family together while balancing a multi-million dollar land deal with his extended relatives. When he learns a shocking secret about his wife, Matt gathers his daughters and heads to Kauai to sort out his problems and confront his demons.
The pacing is plodding, laborious, and agonizingly slow, approaching catastrophes and minutia with the same monotonous invariability. It perfectly matches the tone, which remains melancholy and lackluster throughout, regardless of the events. The characters undergo a similar transformation – one absent of highs and lows. A few details make the relationships between the roles slightly more complex, but this ultimately leads nowhere. By the end, a certain resolve is found by the King family, but not by the audience. With a story so unhurried and characters that arouse little sympathy, it’s difficult to find satisfaction – it’s just hard to care.
An unusually poetic narration by Matt (this guy should be a writer!), distracting dialogue, dysfunctional family introspection and retrospection, and humor derived from the comedy relief of Sid (Nick Krause as the funniest character), or the inherent awkwardness between young and old conversing and the considerable differences in the interpretations of grief, give the story content but not quality. The realistically examined themes of real world revenge, closure, devotion to heritage, and taking things for granted simply don’t have the emotional attachment necessary to make a small film about inconsequential ideas ring true. Fortunately, the acting is commendable all around (nominations won’t elude Clooney). At least audiences will believe the characters are authentically coping with the various issues (and King’s wealth doesn’t interfere with his motif of assuming the problems of the everyman), even if the film’s substance doesn’t amount to much.
– The Massie Twins