The Descendants premiered in 2011, received worldwide attraction, and became one of the most discussed and successful films. Its director Alexander Payne, famous for his Oscar-winning movie Sideways, together with Nat Faxon and Jim Rush, worked on the screen adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’s novel. The movie received many rave reviews from world-known critics, appeared on the list of the top ten movies of 2011, and won awards such as the Golden Globe Awards and Academy Awards. This drama film stars George Clooney, who is one of the most successful Oscar-winning Hollywood actors. The cast also includes Shailene Woodley, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, and Robert Forster. The Hawaiian picturesque landscape, soulful Hawaiian music in the background, and moving as well as the dramatic story of one family in the foreground make the audience sympathize with characters who experience the tragic accident that fundamentally changes their lives. This paper discusses the original style of Alexander Payne who depicts problems that ordinary people may face in a little bit comic, but at the same time, a compassionate way through good script adaptation, appropriate cast, and excellent performance.
The storyline tells about Matt King, an attorney who is a descendant of Hawaiian royalty who inherited land on Kauai Island. However, some of the family members decide to sell the land as it is valuable and high-priced. Unlike his cousins, Matt always tries to live on his own money. At first, he is not against that decision, but later a horrible accident that happens in his family makes him change his attitude towards many issues. An ordinary family with two daughters, Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller), faces a big tragedy; their mother Elizabeth is in a coma because of the boat accident. The father, who has been busy working and has had no time for his wife and children for the last seven years, now faces many new problems connected with parenting. Moreover, elder daughter Alex reveals that her mother has had an affair. As a result, Matt’s life turns upside down. In addition, doctors inform him that his wife will die soon. It is hard to imagine the range of emotions Matt needs to cope with. Moreover, he should tell all of their friends and relatives about the tragic news. Matt also decides to find Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), his wife’s lover, to give him an opportunity to bid goodbye.
The most impressive and thought-provoking part of the film is its beginning. The movie starts with a voice-over of Matt who highlights the idea that everyone thinks that people who live in Hawaii live in paradise. In his monolog, he stresses that they face the same problems, “How can they possibly think our families are less screwed up, our heart attacks and cancers less fatal, our grief less devastating?” (Payne, Faxon, & Rush, n.d.). He says that now he is living in hell, which is a hospital where his wife is dying. Therefore, the theme of the movie is that many people perceive resort countries as a paradise or permanent holiday, however, it is a widespread misconception.
The other aspect concerns the skillful representation of supporting characters. All of them are very memorable. All action and words are thought-out. According to Scott (2011), “each person who shows up on the screen, even for a minute or two with nothing especially important to accomplish, has an odd and memorable individuality.” Owing to excellent acting, the characters are believable. Thus, Robert Foster has successfully managed to play the role of Elizabeth’s father, who always praises his daughter and criticizes Matt for paying his attention to work but not to his family. Judy Greer has brilliantly conveyed the feelings of her heroine, Julie Speer, whose husband has committed adultery with Elizabeth. Finally, Sid (Nick Krause), a young friend of Alex, who at first seems to be a witless person with a smirk on his face and provocative behavior, later masterfully reveals a drama in his own life. Some funny moments such as George Clooney running down the street in his flip-flops or looking out of the bushes, a grandfather punching Sid in an eye, and a scene where Sid gets acquainted with Matt remove tension, appealing to the feeling of understanding.
The issue concerning the selling of land is important as well, and the decision of Matt to vote against the selling is very bold. The scene where Matt and his daughters are observing a picturesque landscape of Hawaiian land, which is their heritage, is one of the most impressive and memorable scenes. Siler (2011) argues that “Burke and the film’s director, Alexander Payne, traveled to Honolulu nine months or so before shooting began.” This means that the preparation process included the exploration of the lives of Honolulu people, their laws, and descendants. Perhaps, the situation in which Matt finds himself was in real life.
The message of the movie is that people should value the family. Support, trust, and honesty are integral parts of the close family relationship. However, nowadays people forget about true values and spend their time at work, failing to notice the feelings of their family members. The director and producers describe emotions and feelings of ordinary people in the context of challenges such as mutual understanding between different family generations and attitude as well as reaction to the tragic accident. The most meaningful aspect is the representation of the way Matt faces all challenges and copes with all difficulties, making controversial decisions and expressing patience and self-control.
To conclude, this movie definitely deserves its awards. The skillful work of scriptwriters, touching plot, excellent actors as well as their performance, picturesque landscape of Hawaiian nature, and original style of its director makes the audience sympathize with the characters as if they are their best friends or relatives. The story itself encourages viewers to think about the significance of each moment and value trust and faithfulness within the family. For some people, Hawaii is a paradise, but local citizens do not have a permanent holiday, their problems are also serious.