I think most people universally acknowledge the fact that George Clooney is an indestructible, endlessly impressive, studlier-by-the-minute, phenomenal actor and force in the entertainment industry. It’s a fact you can’t dispute. You can’t. In The Descendants (the Alexander Payne-directed adaptation of a 2007 book by Hawaiian author Kaui Hart Hemmings), he proves that, yet again, he can do pretty much anything.
I’ve always wondered if Clooney could convincingly play a father, due to the fact that he’s so famously going to be a bachelor for like, ever. The answer is yes, in case you ever wondered the same thing. He’s starting to look like his own handsome father, Nick (who I used to love watching introduce movies on AMC, but they are seriously like twins). It works to his advantage here, as his Matt King is a family man (although, not necessarily the greatest one).
Matt is, along with the rest of his extended family, heir to a huge portion of untouched Hawaiian land, that’s been in the family since the 1860s. They’re the “descendants” of one of the last Hawaiian queens, who married a banker from the mainland, and this royal fortune has been passed down through the years. Most of the family has blown their money, but Matt’s squandered it all, and lives off only what he makes as an attorney. He wants to teach his two daughters that you can’t just be given everything – what a novel idea.
The story begins with Matt’s thrill-seeking wife, Elizabeth, getting into a boating accident and suffering a traumatic head injury that lands her in a coma. Matt’s trying to juggle raising his girls, working, and being at the hospital, along with his grief and guilt about being slightly absentee, feeling like when she comes out of it, he’ll finally be ready to be the man he knows he’s supposed to be. His daughters don’t help the cause. The younger one, Scottie, is your typical pre-teen, and the oldest, Alexandra (the luminous standout Shailene Woodley – she’s like a an angsty Precious Moments doll), is in college and acting out in the ways most angry kids do, by drinking and being an ass. Unfortunately, Alex informs Matt that Elizabeth was cheating on him, and this tragic twist ends up bringing Matt and his girls closer, and turns the story into a search for the alleged home wrecker.
Alexander Payne not only directed, but also adapted the screenplay, and I just want to say he’s such a talented human being. Sideways, which he penned and directed as well, is one of my favorite films, and The Descendants shows another slice of life/sad bunch of shit that is happening to a group of people. Instead of a couple buddies this time, it’s a family. As is the case with Sideways, I laughed out loud, and cried, multiple times. That film is much funnier, but given that this story is about the up-till-now uncharted territory of finding out your spouse has been unfaithful to you AS THEY LAY DYING, UNABLE TO RESPOND – yeah, this one is a drama.
The fact that Matt cannot confront his wife, can’t let her know how hurt and angry he is, and she can’t defend herself or her actions, or perhaps try to make amends for them, is what fuels his desire to hunt down her lover. It seemed to me a bit odd that he and his girls wanted to go on a multiple island search for the guy, while their mom/wife lays in a coma, potentially to never wake up. But these are flawed people, and this is their reaction to the situation they’re in. I love the shit out of a movie that doesn’t try to defend its characters, but allows them to do what they’re going to do.
In the end, I felt sad and hopeful. Life continues to carry on around you, no matter what is happening, and we have to try our best to navigate the waters we find ourselves treading. I’d watch George Clooney sit on a damn couch flipping through a magazine if given the chance, but I really dug seeing him play a family man this time around. *Wistful longing* The Descendants is a lovely portrait of a family in crisis, a showcase of great performances, all surrounded by the paradise that is Hawaii. Keep calm and trust in Clooney: He will never disappoint you, people. Never.