Kudos to The Descendants for, once again, igniting my desires to fly off to Hawaii on a moment’s notice. After watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall and 50 First Dates for the umpteenth times, I was compelled to take my first trip to Oahu last May. And now, I mean, wow. From the Big Island to Kauai, Hawaii’s white sands, dramatic sea cliffs and turquoise waters may have been the true stars of this Oscar-
nominated winning film. The ironic thing is that the plot of The Descendants would have worked in any location, but its subtle poignancy showed that even within a tropical paradise, people still experience heartache, suffering and loss.
George Clooney stars as Matt King, a wealthy, laid-back man whose wife slips into a coma after a bad fall from a jet ski. Their marriage was already on the rocks, but it’s not until Matt picks up his wild child 17-year-old daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) from boarding school that he discovers a deceitful secret – his wife was having an affair. Oddly enough, this painful revelation brings Matt closer with both Alex and his increasingly out-of-control pre-pubescent daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller). Alex mischievously convinces her dad to contact Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), whom she spotted sneaking off with her mom. However, it turns out that Speer is embroiled in a highly anticipated and controversial real estate deal that directly affects Matt, his entire family and his future.
Clooney’s emotions are spot-on for someone who cannot have a two-way argument with his cheating “co-star”. He feigns politeness upon meeting Speer, turning jealous and threatening on a dime. His confusion and vulnerability in this film are fairly impressive for an actor who is typically a one-note playboy.
And how fun it must have been for Woodley, star of ABC Family’s saccharine sweet The Secret Life of the American Teenager, to toss around words like “twat” and “whore,” play drunk and overturn her “good girl” television star image. (Not that she’s THAT good of a girl on Secret Life…she did get pregnant, after all.)
Providing comic relief throughout the film is Sid (Nick Krause), Alex’s dense surfer friend who tags along on the emotionally drained family’s adventures. Sporting a swagger and a crooked smile, Sid is goofy and loveable, yet at the same time, all you want to do is punch him in the face – and you’ll be surprised at which character actually acts on this impulse.
This movie is honest – it doesn’t try to make light of all the emotions involved with losing a loved one, or the consequences of cheating, or the reality of raising two very upset and hormonal daughters. It’s touching, but it’s also unbelievably sad, much more so than expected. If you’re prone to waterworks, make sure you’ve got a wad of tissues stowed away, and hide the credit cards – you may just want to use them to escape to Hawaii like me.
Do I think this should have been nominated for Best Picture? Enh…it’s sort of on the line. Now that we’ve got ten nominees each year, I suppose it makes sense, but ultimately I don’t think it’s on par with The Help, my current favorite of the nominees I’ve seen. But was The Descendants worth watching? Absolutely.