Movie Review: The Descendants

When his wife slips into a coma after a boating mishap, Matt King(George Clooney) is faced with a few challenges. All through the marriage, he has concentrated on work and never been actively involved in raising his kids. As a result, he has to figure out a way to raise their kids - 17 year old Alex(Shailene Woodley) and 10 year old Scottie. At the same time, he is also in charge of closing a deal on a large piece of land in Hawaii controlled by a family trust set up by his forefathers a few hundred years ago. If those are not challenges, throw in a difficult father-in-law who blames him and his wife's infidelity which he learns through Alex.

Alexander Payne's new movie is about looking back at life, correcting the past mistakes and doing the right thing. The movie is based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. As I have not read the novel, I am not commenting about the adaptation. As for the movie, it is a serious subject. A few minutes into the movie and there is no hope for Matt's wife. They have to take her out of life support resulting in her death in a few days. Despite the seriousness of the subject, Alexander Payne do not employ melodrama to convey emotions. Instead, it is left to the audience. How he accomplishes this is through scenes laced with a touch of humor. The humor is not over the top but enough to relax the audience and connect. That is why you end up laughing during the scene when Alex's slacker friend Sid talks about his parents to Matt. When you have finished laughing, the whole Alex-Sid friendship takes on a new meaning for both Matt and you. This makes the movie interesting and touching. There are many instances like this in the movie. There are two other factors which contributes to the success of the movie - photography and music. The photography tries to be subtle yet it captures the beauty of Hawaii and also the emotions of the various actors. With Hawaiian music in the background playing softly at the start of many scenes, your emotions connect easily with that of the actors on the screen. The last scene of the movie is also one of the best as the director establishes a lot without any dialogue being spoken by the actors.

Of the performances, George Clooney and Shailene Woodley stands out as there are always there on the screen. George Clooney uses a bit of slapstick in many scenes to evoke laughter. But he excels in emotional scenes especially while bidding goodbye to his wife at the end, interacting with his father-in-law and announcing his wife's imminent death to all their friends. Shailene Woodley as Alex has to quickly grow up in a very short span of time to shoulder some of the responsibilities of her mother towards Scottie. She makes us believe she does.

Go for it. Though a drama, you can watch it without taxing your brain. Of course, you will be emotionally moved. But that will be at your own will.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****


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