Families can be Difficult ...
They also can be one's strength to weather the certain difficulties in life that test any resolve for happiness. "The Descendants" is that film which reveals both sides of that certain coin - that life is precious and messy, and must be lived with the knowledge of the inevitable eventuality that befalls each of us.
Maybe we should mind our way down that path and keep those messes in small, manageable piles. "The Descendants" is a film about those who have not.
Chief among these offenders of an ongoing mismanagement of presence is Matt King, played by George Clooney. Matt King tries hard to stay on the right path; however, his life was a microcosm of change beyond one's control, yet still bore his fingerprints of responsibility. The short of it: It ain't easy being a loving father, a dutiful husband, and provider for all - sometimes you just can't win. Regardless, Matt suited up every day and continued to play the game as best he could muster.
In complete aggregate, this is the synopsis of this unique story of normal people in an abnormal set of situations: Life is messy, but who should clean it up? Daddy Matt King, imbued with all his faults, struggles mightily to the rescue.
This type of character: a paradox of humanity, aging gracefully in a graceless world, plays to Actor Clooney's strength to convey. George has learned to convey this message in the moment with simply, his facial expressions, without over-embellishing the projected mood. It is a subtle talent that George Clooney has grown into, which includes him in the rarefied air enjoyed by the best actors living in their lofty club of the extraordinarily gifted. Clooney's Matt King is the every-man, humbled in the ostensible world of inherited wealth, who, as a wealthy heir to the generational fortune of Hawaiian tribal royalty, has striven to remain normal, but now finds his established life trait to be an impossible quest to continue.
And just why is that so difficult of a quest? Matt King is the part owner, as a descent of ancient Hawaiian royalty (about a ninth) of a remaining 25,000 acres of that estate, a pristine paradise on the "big island" of Hawaii in the Hawaiian Archipelago, and is also the family's administrator of the trust that has sustained all of his many cousins their entire lives - but not Matt.
Matt has used only his income as a practicing real estate attorney to sustain his family, while taking some small portion of his inheritance to purchase special items as he deemed necessary. Matt, by the voice of Actor Clooney in narration, explains this in onset of the film. His cousins, at least most of them, have not been so practical. Now they have multiple offers to sell that handsome land, up to one billion dollars, just as some of the cousins are running out of their inherited fortunes.
But not so fast, if you should proffer any bold assumptions as to the great fortune that has now befallen Matt and his family, there is more to this humanistic tale, with the twist of this erstwhile fortune. Much, much more.
Nearly as soon as Matt discovers the intrinsic value of his family's marketable real estate, his wife, Elizabeth laid in extremely quiet repose, played by Patricia Hastie, is injured in a terrible motorboat accident, and remains in a coma from the onset of the film, until ... Matt learns that she will never recover. Shortly thereafter, Matt learns of his wife's infidelity, from, of all people, his eldest daughter, Alexandra, played by Shailene Woodley.
From bad to worse is the cliche that best describes the rest of the film until Matt King, a loving but distant father learns that he has some mad recovery of spirit, and reclamation of family ahead of him, after he ties together quite a few of life's unraveled loose ends.
If one completely disregards the fact of Matt's semi-dormant wealth, his life lived in one of America's foremost paradises, Hawaii, the 50th state, this film is a fairly normal account of some fairly normal people dealing with a most abnormal situation. And as one would imagine, there is quite a bit of natural humor that is thrown into the mix, which is not forced, and works well to draw the audience in a bit closer to deliver the inevitable cinematic knockout punch that is the working magic of any well constructed story in celluloid.
Screenwriters Alexander Payne (also the director), Nat Faxon and Jim Rash took the fine story of a Kaui Hart Hemmings novel about her native roots, and crafted this wonderful story that was so well constructed in the flesh and bones of this film by Director Payne. Director Alexander Payne has already made a number of quirky, but intrinsically honest films: "Sideways," "About Schmidt" that also told interesting stories, with a fair amount of natural humor just like our subject here.
These kinds of films work if they are well written, well acted, and overall, well crafted. "The Descendants," in its brisk 115 minutes of runtime, was just that sort of a film. One of the film's many brushes of interpersonal reality was when the goofy boyfriend, Sid, Nick Krause, made a comment on the state of Matt's father-in-law's wife suffering from Alzheimer's, when Matt took the daughter and her boyfriend to tell Elizabeth's father of her sad turn to the worse. The father-in-law, Scott Thorson, played by Robert Forster, took umbrage with the boy's immature comment about his terminally ill wife:
Sid: "I bet she (the mother-in-law) knows how funny she sounds" [openly laughing at the sad, sick woman].
Scott Thorson [the wiry, loving husband of the sick wife turns to the simple boy] "I'm going to hit you now" [and then decks the boy ... hard].
Matt King: "You little fuck! Do you get hit a lot?"
Sid: "I don't know, I've had my share."
Matt King: [to Alexandra] "Your friend is retarded, you know that?"
Sid: "Hey I've got a brother who's retarded! You don't have to get all derogatory."