Cinema review: The Descendants

The Descendants


RUNNING TIME: 115 minutes

DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne

STARRING: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause

FILMS – in their golden age – used to rely almost solely on two things: a good tale performed by good actors.

There was no curtain of CGI to hide behind or big budget special effects, in fact the most they probably had to work with was a controlled explosion in a studio carpark.

The Descendants is a nod to that sort of old-time simplicity in that there’s no bloodshed or stunt doubles required – even the film’s setting on the islands of Hawaii plays second fiddle to its soap opera core.

This is a film that relies wholly on the drama of family life fraying at the seams and is a breath of fresh tropical air in these times of ostentatious film extravagance (which frankly, is starting to bore the tits right off me). 

George Clooney plays indifferent husband and father Matt King who finds out while his wife is in a coma that she was having an affair – borne of his workaholic neglect and her desperate housewife syndrome.

Clooney narrates the film in is his usual deadpan manner, telling paradise it can “go fuck itself” with fatigue rather than conviction, never really losing his rag as he rightly should, until he throws – woah, there! – a teddy bear across the room.

He bears the sudden weight of moral consciousness and responsibility with the underplayed manner he’s known for – all heavy sighs and furrowed brows as he comes to realise he needs to step up to the roles he has neglected.

As he tries to deal with the double whammy of his wife’s infidelity versus her imminent death, a duo of semi-delinquent daughters and a string of money-grabbing cousins nagging him to sell a Hawaiian beauty spot pile on the pressure.

Shailene Woodley, playing college student daughter, Alexandra, pins down middle class rebellion to a T and almost steals the show from Clooney with her smart mouth and wide-eyed incredulity (“Did you just spank me?!”) while Amara Miller strikes a heartbreaking balance between innocence and potty-mouthed copycat as ten-year-old  Scottie.

The Descendants – while flirting with the unspectacular at times – is a melodrama tinged with solemnity and seriousness with moments of quiet tragedy colouring it with poignancy.

It’s a tale of grief and loyalty, offset with a sprinkling of black humour, and it’s hard to argue with something quite that simple.