The Descendants (2011)

Dir. Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, etc.

I’d probably recommend this to Jill. Next, I’d recommend this to Don. I’m not sure about Marc or Tony, but they would come next. Mitchell had a similar reaction to me, while Penny liked it. I think Larri wouldn’t care for this–maybe a little less than OK. Kevin or Chris could like this, but I’d be a little surprised if they loved it. Still, I think Kevin should see this.

I think many of you know this is based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, a local girl. The story centers around Matt King (Clooney), a descendent of Kamehameha and missionaries. His wife is in a coma, and in addition to dealing with this, he has some personal issues to deal with–involving his wife and a parcel of crown lands. King also has two daugthers, Alex (Woodley) and Scottie (Miller)–who seem to be a bit on the wild side.

First some good things about the film. The film does an excellent job of presenting Hawai’i as seen by someone who has lived here, if not all of his/her life, a long time. I should qualify that by saying that the Hawai’i we see is largely the Hawai’i of some from the upper-middle to upper class. Payne should be commended for his effort at capturing Hawai’i–at least in terms of place. He really gets the costumes, buildings (many on location versus sets) and music (lost of Gabby Pahinui) right.

I also thought Payne did a good job with the actors. I thought all the scenes involving crying or intense emotions were excellent. Payne also seems to manage the actors well in terms of the extent he should use local actors (he doesn’t use very many), and Amara Miller (who is an amateur). The remark about local actors may sting, but given the one of the more prominent moments for a local actor, I think it’s the right decision as the acting wasn’t very good (I’m sad to say).

OK, so what didn’t work for me? In a nutshell, I don’t think there’s much of a story or character. Both are fairly predictable and well-worn, I think. Payne seems to not want to flesh out the characters and their relationships–in order to avoid sentimentality and predictability–but, for me, this made the characters seem superficial.

The events in the story also don’t tie in well with the character arc. Matt’s reckoning with his relationship with his wife and his family inheritance seems to come together, but the way it does isn’t very clear or fleshed out, imo.

Finally, I think there is an absence of non-white characters that make the film feel slightly less authentic. (This is a minor point, though. But some examples: the white doctor, the fact that the family seems entirely white–no interracial marriages.)

1 Response to “The Descendants (2011)”

  1. Reid

    Andy Bumatai has a new youtube “show” called, “In the Car.” Basically, interviews someone while driving a car. I saw one episode where he interviews Don Stroud. Now, I didn’t know who Stroud was, but when I looked him up, I recognized him. Stroud starred as a bad guy in many 70s cop TV shows. The reason I mention him in this thread is because I thought he would have been good in Robert Forester’s role (Matt King’s father-in-law.)

    Here’s the interview. (Skip over to about 6:50 to see Stroud bust out some pidgin.)

    Here’s another interview of him:

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