A Perfect Family Doesn't Come EasilyTuesday, May 01, 2012 By Tucker Valentine
For the first 17 years of my life, I’ve been lucky enough to have a good relationship with my family. It is hard to imagine how my life would be different if this were not the case. “The Descendants,” written, directed and produced by Alexander Payne, is a beautifully crafted film that looks at the emotional struggles of a man dealing with the imperfections of family. Payne, who is best known for his writing and directing of “About Schmidt,” (2002) once again creates an attractive film examining family relationships with “The Descendants.” The movie stars George Clooney as Matt King, a wealthy real-estate lawyer living in Hawaii who identifies himself early in the film as the “back-up parent” to his two troublesome daughters, aged 10 and 17. After his wife is seriously injured in a boating accident, King is suddenly forced to take care of the two girls with whom he does not have the best of relationships. Shailene Woodley plays the role of King’s oldest daughter, Alex, while the younger daughter, Scottie, is played by Amara Miller. Alex, the typical teenage rebel, has a troubled past and a bad attitude. Scottie, a confused 10-year-old, has trouble dealing with the emotions she experiences due to the condition of her mother. The same day King is told that his wife is in an irreversible coma, he also learns of the secret affair that she had been having up until the accident. Determined to find his wife’s lover, King sets out on a journey through Hawaii, bringing his daughters along in an attempt to rebuild a family that is quickly falling apart. A film that could have easily become depressing, “The Descendants” turned into an uplifting story that made me want to tell my parents how much I loved them. The script features a rich mix of emotional scenes that are not over-dramatized, coupled with unexpected laughs that help to brighten the mood. Filmed in a beautiful, pastoral location of Hawaii, the picturesque setting provides contrast to the somber plot. The well-written script is performed flawlessly by the cast; the way George Clooney portrays his character’s emotions makes the viewer believe that he has truly experienced this tragedy, and you cannot help but feel sympathetic for him. Clooney’s performance is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast; specifically Shailene Woodley whose role as King’s oldest daughter left nothing to be desired. The maturity that Woodley is able to convey through the transformation of her character, Alex, will surely open new opportunities for the up-and-coming star, after giving one of the best adolescent performances of the year. If there was something wrong with “The Descendants,” I couldn’t find it. What I was left with after an hour and 55 minutes was a satisfaction that I have not gotten from any other recent movie. I was not confused by some sub plot that was never fully explained, or unfulfilled by an ending that failed to impress. A fully developed movie, “The Descendants” is a film that truly makes you inspect your own relationships with family members, reminding you to always love, even when its tough.