The Descendants (2012) – directed by Alexander Payne

The Descendants is a low key drama, a chuckle and weep film that is fueled by the depth of its characters. As with Alexander Payne’s previous films (About Schmidt, Sideways), The Descendants focusses on the situation that its characters find themselves in.

Set in Hawaii, The Descendants tells the story of Matt King (George Clooney) who has to deal with his comatose wife’s likely death. In doing so he tries to reconnect with his two daughters and struggles with what is required of being a solo dad. Despite the morbid premise, Payne does a good job of keeping the film upbeat and humourous and at no stage did I feel weighed down unnecessarily by the subject matter at hand. Yet the subject matter is treated with due respect. George Clooney does a commendable job as Matt King. He plays the role with an innocent tenderness that is both funny and poignant. Despite Clooney’s lions share of screen time, he is complimented with a competent supporting cast.

Shot on location in Hawaii, The Descendants secretes a curiously authentic Polynesian vibe. At least it felt like the Polynesia I know closer to home (New Zealand), but “curious” because it is predominantly populated by white Americans. But this is Hawaii, I’ve never visited, and like the title suggests these “white Americans” are in fact the titular wardens of the land. Regardless, it felt honest and true to itself.

The film in other respects has little to remark on. It is well weighted with an excellent performance by Clooney, and an enjoyable film that you can comfortably put next to Payne’s other directorial efforts.