By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Through inheritance Matt King (George Clooney) has become sole trustee of one of the largest privately owned tracts of virgin land left on the Hawaiian islands. Despite this he, along with his wife and two daughters, live only off of the income he receives from his law practice in a comfortable suburban home. When his spouse is seriously injured in a boating accident and put into a coma, Matt has to come to terms with his new role taking care of his children.
Oberst’s Child Rearing tip (1): Rape-Van candy is never worth it…
Based solely on the synopsis one should see a potential setup for saccarine hand-holding and preachy bullshit. Thankfully that is not the case with The Descendants, a well-acted, well-directed human drama by Sideways director Alexander Payne. Quintessential bachelor George Clooney portrays a father figure very well. His “Matt King” is a man whose personal resolve often comes into conflict with the interests of others. In spite of this, he is well intentioned, and is willing to put up with a great deal of headache in order to keep the peace.
It would be easy for this scenario to devolve into Kindergarten Cop territory, with the children being annoying brats who exist solely to show how “out of his element” Clooney is. Instead it opts for a realist approach; when his younger daughter acts out, it is because she is frightened, or doesn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation. This may be one of the most well-written dramas in a long while, each character feels fully fleshed out and believable. The Hawaiian setting also is used quite well to give the film a unique feel, especially in the scenes where you meet King’s extended family.
The Dude’s brother also abides…
Shailene Woodley, the actress who plays King’s older daughter Alexandra, is absolutely fantastic to watch. The emotion she plumbs from her character is truly amazing. Alexandra is a tortured soul. On one hand she is vicious to her father, but the next moment you see that the anger is a cover for her own depression. Much of her torment is brought on by a dark secret she holds, and the revelation of that secret (which was so unfortunately revealed in the trailers) changes King’s life, and causes his plans for the future to be changed as well.
Beer Two (Spoilers within)
The film begins with a distractingly long voiceover that explains a lot of details about the inner workings of the King Family. While some voiceover might have been necessary to fill in the occasional gap, here it is used far too much. A lot of what is said in the voiceover is conveyed in the film itself, without the need of hand-holding. It isn’t a serious enough problem to destroy the movie, but I believe sometimes it is better to show and not tell.
A fairly straightforward film, but one with great performances, excellent writing, and solid drama.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Matt learns something new about his wife, after it is too late to confront her
Take a Drink: when the boyfriend says something incredibly stupid
Down a Shot: when you realize he’s actually kind of right…