Synopsis: A lawyer struggles to care for his daughters and manage family business while his wife is hospitalized.
Sun, surf and tropical splendor… the stuff of daydreams and long-saved for holidays. But stories abound of bungling vacationers; attracting sharks as they snorkel, getting sun poisoning and alcohol poisoning too. Maybe the natives are better at handling island life. The Descendants showcases a family who actually gets to live the dream in Oahu, Hawaii.
George Clooney is Matt King, a middle aged, serious-minded attorney. Level-headed and thrifty, he is the sole trustee of his extended family’s land trust comprised of 25,000 pristine acres in Kauai. Matt’s cousins have become accustomed to living high on sales from land handed down through the generations. The Kings hail from a white banker and Hawaii royalty and have honored their legacy with many a condo development.
But is there a downside to life in Paradise? Director Alexander Payne makes us sigh with pleasure with shots of the idyllic islands; veils of rain falling across green-sloped mountains, the Pacific rolling ashore, sun opening up bright flowers. And Matt’s luxe house is adorned in vintage Hawaii decor. Looks pretty perfect. Except…
Matt’s wife, Elizabeth has been hospitalized after a boat racing accident. Now Matt has to step up his game from being, in his own words, “the understudy parent.” He’s got his work cut out for him. His tween daughter Scottie (Amara Miller), has been acting out since her mom has been in a coma. She gives adults the finger, hurls patio furniture into the pool and gives her teachers headaches. Teen daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) is on the island of Hawaii, at an expensive boarding school for bad girls. Drugs and older guys got her in trouble according to her dad. But now he’ll bring her home to see her mother and help with her young sister.
Not so perfect now. In a voiceover Matt talks of the mistake that non-Islanders make in thinking that residents live like the vacationers. While visitors take a break from their responsibilities, Hawaiians are busy working and tending to their obligations like anywhere else. And Matt has problems that sunscreen can’t protect him from.
Matt hears that his wife may have been having an affair. Visiting the hospital and staring at his comatose wife doesn’t offer any answers. One afternoon, he is struck with an idea– their friends down the street could know if his wife had a boyfriend. He runs down the street toward their house, half falling out of his shoes, sweating in his dad shorts. Your heart breaks for the guy; he hurtles towards knowledge he doesn’t want, but he has to know.
What follows is a pretty perfect dramedy. Matt takes his girls to Kauai where the rumored boyfriend is on business. Along for the ride is his teen daughter’s friend Sid. Matt wants nothing to do with the unfiltered stoner, but Alex insists he travel with them. Sid’s advice is always well-meaning and usually dumb.
The weekend getaway also presents a chance for him and the girls to have a respite from the very worrisome and depressing hospitalization of Elizabeth. But several of Matt’s cousins live in Kauai and they are breathing down his neck to know when they can expect this last cash cow land sale to come through. Matt manages to keep them at bay while he plays amateur detective. His teen daughter asks him what he plans on saying if he can track down the alleged boyfriend. He says he doesn’t know. Sid’s idea involves pulverizing the guy’s genitals.
IRL, living in an island paradise doesn’t stop the problems of human society. There’s still poverty, drug abuse and heartache. Although I admit that there is not the expense of a winter coat and passing out on the beach would be better than passing out in a snowbank. If you need more proof of paradise not being people-proof, check out all the news stories of Florida Man & Florida Woman who manage to f**k up living in Mickey Mouse’s Sunshine State.
P.S. 2012 Oscar winner for Best Adapted Screenplay, Alexander Payne, Jim Rash & Nat Faxon.
Movie Loon’s Movie Review Shortcut:
Cut to the Chase: A pitch perfect script (an Oscar winner) from Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon & Jim Rash (the Dean on Community!) based on the book by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Tremendous performances from the “Kings” Clooney, Woodley & Miller.
Humor Highlight: The humor in the script all comes off without a hitch, and the spacey neighbor Mark hits some particularly high comedy notes.