Movie Reviews

The Descendants: The Art of Finding Joy and Closure in Grief

By Wang DexianMovies - 25 January 2012 9:59 AM | Updated 10:31 AM

The Descendants: The Art of Finding Joy and Closure in Grief

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Cast:  George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard

The Buzz: Filmed entirely in Hawaii, the film is based off a novel written by Kaui Hart Hemmings. “The Descendantsis one of those Academy Awards frontrunners which open in Singapore this week to coincide with Oscar season. Most notably, the film bagged a pair of major awards at the recent Golden Globes for Best Picture (Drama) and Best Actor for George Clooney.

The Story: George Clooney plays Matt King, a man whose wife, Elizabeth, is comatose from a motor boating accident. As the self-described “back up parent”, he has no idea how to take care of his young 10 year old daughter, Scottie nor his rebellious 17 year old daughter Alex who has a drinking problem.

Furthermore, he is the sole trustee of a family trust controlling 25,000 acres of land on the island of Kaua'i and with the trust expiring in seven years, has to get together with his extended family to endorse a deal. He is informed that his wife will not be able to wake up from her coma and according to her living will, she will be pulled from life support. His problems really escalate when Alex reveals to him that Elizabeth had cheated on him with another man. thinks: We're guessing from reading the summary of the film's story above that you, the reader, must think that this is one hell of a depressing film. Well, congrats because it isn't. However, hold your other thought... yes, it appears that Matt King is caught in quite the pickle.

Matt King is clearly a man with many problems and George Clooney runs away with it, capably displaying a wide range of emotions: Hope, anger and frustration amongst many. Clooney performs admirably against stereotype - playing a bumbling parent and dumping his suits for flowery Hawaiian shirts.

Also on inSing: George Clooney's Best Roles

There's lots of human drama in this one and watching Clooney deal with the forthcoming loss of his wife and later, her betrayal is often times endearing as Clooney's performance is heartfelt and one that is sincerely confused.

Director and co-writer Alexander Payne, the man behind such critical darlings like “Sideways”and “About Schmidt”, does an admirable job directing and pacing the story.

With so many plot lines running, the temptation to rush about was certainly there, but instead he does a wonderful job setting the table for each plot point to wrap up and move on to the next.

The film's greatest strength lies with the cast of supporting characters surrounding Matt. They all have their baggage, in particular Alex, the elder daughter. Played convincingly by Shailene Woodley, she challenges Clooney's character at every turn and with her squabbles with Scottie and Matt, make for a very real dysfunctional family.

When Matt rallies the family to face the impending loss, Alex changes from a slightly bratty daughter to the rock of the family that encourages Matt to confront the problems. Even her boyfriend, Sid, is a highlight as the stoned out surfer dude whose simplistic analysis of problems and situations are hilarious and yet at times, deeper than it seems.

Shot on location at Hawaii, the film is unsurprisingly a looker with a Hawaiian music score rounding up the tropical flavour of the film. “The Descendantsis a great and surprisingly funny movie, considering that the subject matter is actually quite morbid and dark.

The likable cast and their great performances are able to bring out the humour in what really shouldn't be funny to most people.

With that being said, let's not forget that there's also some meaningful drama here. All in all, “The Descendants” is a mature and grown up look at how death and grief is often the main catalyst towards forgiving the imperfections of others around us and remembering the good times instead.