The Descendants perfectly mixes comedy and tragedy
Some people might think of Hawaii as a perfect place. The inhabitants of this group of islands don’t have any problems, heartache or stress. Why would they? They live in Hawaii! The Descendents aims to disprove that theory. George Clooney stars as Matt King, a Hawaiian local who is a lawyer, a descendent of royalty and the main trustee of a large chunk of Hawaiian land. Matt, like anyone else in the world, regardless of where he lives, has quite a few problems. His wife is in a coma after a terrible boating accident, he is working with his cousins on a possible sale of the land, he has to try to take care of his two out-of-control daughters, and to top it off he found out his wife had been cheating on him.
Matt receives news that his wife would never wake up from her coma, and after finding out that she had been cheating on him, he decides to go look for his wife’s beau to inform him of her impending death so he can say goodbye. Matt takes his daughters and his older daughter’s boyfriend along with him on the trip, which turns out to be a learning experience for Matt and his daughters that will shape their future.
The Descendents could easily be a top choice for film of the year. It had striking imagery because of its Hawaii setting, strong emotion and a solid foundation of humor. Clooney is perfect in this role and nails the character. He perfectly controls the mixture of tragedy and humor which are sometimes layered deeply in a single scene. His daughters, played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, were excellent casting choices. They play perfectly off Clooney with their lovable yet crude behavior.
While my favorite aspect of this film was the humor it wasn’t all fun and games. The film provided very striking images of Matt’s bed-ridden wife. They show her throughout the film and as her condition deteriorates and she becomes closer to death she looks it. Matt is forced to tell his friends and family that his wife won’t be waking up. His daughters have to say goodbye to their mother and Matt has to come to terms with the fact that his wife cheated on him while never being able to confront her about it and try to send her to the afterlife.
The most appealing part of this film, besides the fact that it starred Clooney, was the mix of comedy and tragedy. The director, Alexander Payne, takes multiple serious subjects and gives them a real world context. Even though the problems that Clooney’s character faces are large and not something most people would deal with daily, Payne shows how people deal with their problems. And, like most of us, it’s done through humor. The daughters use profanity and fight with each other and the boyfriend provides comic relief as a beach bum kid along for the ride. The score is also fun and lightens the mood during very tense moments. Payne also does a great job of setting the mood with shots of landscape and serene establishing shots.