The Descendants (2011)
Rated – R
Directed by Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley
There is a deep satisfaction that I felt after watching The Descendants, Alexander Payne’s first film in years since the incredible Sideways. I laughed, I most certainly teared up (if I was watching the film solo, I definitely would’ve weeped quite a bit), and I became invested in the plot along with every character from the movie. This is the most complete film of the year by the way it works perfectly with the theme of imperfection.
George Clooney stars at Matt King, father of two, husband to a wife in a coma from a boating accident, lawyer, and the sole trustee of 25,000 acres of prime land on the island of Kaua’i. There is a huge monetary benefit to the entire family if the land is sold, but King has bigger fish to fry. This includes telling his rebellious, teen daughter Alexandra (Woodley) and younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) that their mother isn’t going to wake up from her coma. As if that wasn’t hard enough to begin with, Alexandra brings another plot point to her dad’s attention: that her mom was having an affair with another man before her accident.
This film is layered with doses of reality and consists of characters that you can relate to. One thing is for sure, you certainly feel for Matt King and really root for the hero of the film during his darkest hours. Whether he finds himself frustrated with his daughters, under attack from his step-father, or spitting out words of anguish towards his comatose wife, Matt King is the center of the film and takes every inch given to him in stride. Payne has always had an excellent eye for detail in what drives characters to and from each other and his attention to detail in The Descendants doesn’t disappoint.
George Clooney really shows off his acting chops as the struggling father and Shailene Woodley surprises as his oldest daughter. The two make up for many compelling interactions and conversations throughout the film that results in some of the most touching moments of the year. Even in a movie with such serious and tragic themes, there are plenty of smiles and humor along their journey, especially Alexandra’s surfer-dude friend, Sid.
There was a point in the film when I thought that there was just too much being piled up against Matt King, but after I thought about it, this is exactly the sort of thing that happens in everyday life. Life throws you a curveball, and then another, and before you know it you’re underneath an avalanche about to cave in. The single thing that helps the most during these situations are the people who surround you, your friends and family.
Also, Matt King isn’t a bad guy, but he’s merely human, just like everyone else in the film. We all make mistakes, but what really defines you is how you deal with the mistakes. King has to prepare himself for a world without his wife, and at the same time mend his relationship with his distant daughters, deal with his demanding cousins and gain closure from his wife’s affair. In the end, Matt King deserves the title of “hero.”