wogma rating: Owner's Pride! (?)
George Clooney in the first 5 minutes of The Descendants says via a voiceover, “I am the backup parent, the understudy”, and immediately you know this is going to be a coming of age film, which is ironical considering the film spans over 10 days. To be able to turn things around convincingly, in a story that encompasses that time frame, is no easy job. The film manages to inculcate in you, the same values that the Rajshri’s have been trying for generations (coupled with a darling of a story). This time around, with The Descendants, Alexandre Payne makes the job seem effortless and manages to tug your heart.Read more
Forgive my comparison, but this year The Descendants has almost taken on the same avatar as last year’s little gem, The King’s Speech i.e. a feel good film that brightens your day and also, wins all the movie awards. While the films are widely apart in their premise, the one thing you can be certain of is that it will be one of the most emotionally captivating films you would have seen till date.
The beauty of The Descendants lies in its exterior – the visual picture gives you no clue about the journey you’re about to take with the film. With the backdrop of the serene and beach-y Hawaiian islands, the film tracks Matt King (Clooney) and his family’s journey as the family tries to cope with a great loss. They are also left with a large plot of land from their ancestors: a non-touristy, beautiful piece of the island that King, as the sole trustee of the land, has to decide the outcome of. They lose the lease in 7 years.
King and his two daughters set the ball rolling as a perfectly dysfunctional family. Along with the land decisions, a tragedy occurs in the family when his wife hits her head rather hard in a boating accident. This leaves King alone with his children while the wife is in coma. And that is not the only tragedy.
Clooney as Matt King is emotionally defensive; however the elder daughter Alex (the radiant Shailene Woodley) has troubles with alcohol and a general adolescent angst. The other daughter Scottie (Amara Miller, also the cutest of the lot) deals with her own personal rebellion of the absence of a mother figure. Both young actors are sassy and have a cracking chemistry that serve as a funny sidetrack from the serious business.
They are all running in different directions and you almost want to sit them down and comfort them separately. Such is the first quarter of the film, which fills you with concern and frustration as an empathetic viewer. It’s not a complimentary bond, and therefore you wonder about placing a film that deals with the sense of loss and rejection in a locale that oozes tranquility.
However, the Hawaiian island serves as a perfect catalyst for such a setting. Director of photography, Phedon Papamichael brings out this conflict beautifully. For every emotionally heavy scene, the following cut-away has a sense of hope and calm. The background music is almost surreal; country music coupled with part soothing, part peppy Hawaiian vocals that you would imagine playing in a beach shack. This entire package plays out as an oxymoron, bringing out with even more conviction the brewing storm in every character’s head.
Clooney is a charm, as the virtual torchbearer of the film, playing single dad in mostly a pair of plain polo t-shirts and colorful Bermuda shorts. He himself asks you not to take the get up seriously; most influential people in the city dress down and casual. We see CEOs in the same avatar; even in a scene when Clooney breaks serious news to his extended family, they’re wearing floral dresses and shirts. This becomes a beautiful routine in the film – between the windy palm trees, floral wear and Hawaiian music you experience a deep familial connect with the story.
A shout out to the other characters in the film that grow on you immensely – Robert Forster as Elizabeth’s (the wife) father is temperamental and scenes between him and the rest of the family are all nerve and smiles. Another special mention is of older daughter Alex’s boyfriend (Nick Krause) who is hilariously annoying, and manages to win your heart with his goofy-ness.
Clooney’s subtle character growth goes in tandem with the sometimes humorous, sometimes deep narrative. It’s a character-driven story that manages to beautifully weave into an intelligent and expressive film. Each subsidiary character brings something extra to the table, as you connect with their personal voice in the film (you cry along with Scottie when she is told about her mother, you want to tell Alex to be a bit more sensitive to her dad who is dealing with his own baggage and suchlike). Don’t miss The Descendants, as you accompany the film on its path to self-discovery with a warm story.
This article is by guest author Swetha Ramakrishnan. Swetha Ramakrishnan is currently living and working in Mumbai. She's a self-confessed film enthusiast and can most likely be found talking to anyone and everyone about popular cinema and her love for SRK. Swetha Ramakrishnan also blogs at http://swetharamakrishnan.blogspot.com/.
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