A high school teacher's personal life becomes complicated as he works with students during the school elections, particularly with an obsessive overachiever determined to become student body president.
Matt King's family has lived in Hawaii for generations. His extended family - namely he and his many cousins - own 25,000 acres of undeveloped land on Kauai held in trust, which ends in seven years. The easiest thing for the family to do is sell the land before the seven years is up, which is all the talk in the state, as, to whom they sell the property could very well change the face of Kauai. Despite the vast wealth that comes with the land, Matt has decided to live solely on what he earns as a Honolulu lawyer. However, Matt has not had a perfect life living in Hawaiian paradise as many believe. He and his wife Elizabeth were having problems in their marriage. She recently got into a boating accident which has placed her in a coma. Their seventeen year old daughter Alex is in boarding school on the big island since they couldn't handle her rebellion, which was made all the worse by an argument of an unknown nature between mother and daughter during Alex's last visit home. And their ...Written by
In one scene, Elizabeth's mother is called "tutu", Hawaiian slang for grandparent. See more »
The credits thank Oahu County, which does not exist. The island of Oahu is in Honolulu County. See more »
My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We're all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane?
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With the promising cast, an interesting subject matter, the substantial awards attention, the critical acclaim and being familiar with and highly appreciating much of Alexander Payne's work (especially 'Sideways', his recent film 'Downsizing' is an exeption), interest in seeing 'The Descendants' was high.
On the most part, after finally seeing it, 'The Descendants' delivers. It's not perfect and it doesn't quite make it in my list of my favourite films of 2011. It's not Payne's best or my favourite of his, as indicated already that's 'Sideways' while also loving 'About Schmidt' and 'Election'. Its many good points however are outstanding and far outweigh the issues, making it a very good film and almost (but not quite) great one. Considering though that it had all the ingredients to be great, that it wasn't quite gave a slight air of disappointment.
'The Descendants' may not say much new or deep, for a film with heavy and complicated themes this will disappoint some, part of me thought in places things could have gone into more detail.
A few parts came over as being too convenient in occurrence and resolution. Perhaps there could have been less narration, which actually isn't that irritating or over-used but the film would have worked without it.
However, 'The Descendants' is gorgeously shot, making the most of and clearly loving the picturesque Hawaiian locations and landscapes that makes one want to book a holiday there immediately. The use of traditional Hawaiian music on the soundtrack gave the film authenticity and added a lot to the mood of the story, especially in the more melancholic elements that are enhanced by it. Payne directs with his usual wit and warmth.
Payne's script is a large part of 'The Descendants' success. There is a lot of poignant pathos that does give enough depth to the melancholic element of the story, but it is balanced beautifully with a sincere honesty, thoughtfulness, glowing warmth and humorous comic elements.
Admittedly the story is deliberate and it's not the most insightful or breaking-new-ground there is, but the sympathetic tackling of the heavy and complicated personal themes really strikes an emotional chord and the warmth and gentle tone make it interesting. The characters are written well and the father and daughter relationship has a lot of heart and one of the film's biggest strengths.
George Clooney gives one of his finest performances in a challenging role that he brings a lot of layers to. The performance of Shailene Woodley is similarly among the year's best yet criminally overlooked, a very heartfelt, engaging and beyond her years turn. The rest of the cast are just as affecting (particularly Judy Greer and Beau Bridges), while there's welcome levity from Nick Krause, as one of the more rounded supporting characters, and a surprisingly good Matthew Lillard (was expecting him to jar seeing as he tends to play goofballs yet here in a less likeable role in a gentle drama).
Overall, very good and could have been great with just a few tweaks. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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