Living in paradise is not as glamorous or care free as many outsiders may believe, and the King family is a perfect example of it. The Descendants, an Alexander Payne film adapted from the novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings, follows Hawaii-based lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) on his painful, yet often comedic quest to reunite his family after his wife suffers a tragic accident. While the film tugs on heart strings towards the end, it mostly infuses audiences with almost uncomfortable laughter and anticipation for when the story will kick into gear. Hit the jump for our review of The Descendants on Blu-ray.
When Matt hears his wife is in a coma following a boating accident, he finds himself alone for the first time in his life and having to take care of two daughters he knows little about. His career has kept him away from his family for years, and while it afforded them a life of relative luxury, it kept him from spending time with those he loves. A fish out of water is putting it mildly. His youngest daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), has a sassy imagination and weirdness about her that Matt can’t begin to understand, and his eldest daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) is a recovering drug user who has no qualms with speaking her mind in the foulest way possible. Though he feels ill-equipped to deal with his family, he knows he’s the only person who can, and the one person his daughters need the most.
The movie has an interesting story to tell, one of making up for one’s shortcomings and working through even the most difficult of situations with perseverance and love. Unfortunately it feels as though the narrative never truly takes on a life of its own, leaving the audience waiting for a spark that never comes. The journey from accident to realization and eventually resolution drags through various scenarios that aren’t dull, but not thrilling either, but just interesting enough to keep you thinking they’ll eventually pick up. The narration by Clooney in the beginning attempts to convey background story to the audience, but as a side effect, kills the flow of the film. It would have been more interesting to see the information flow from the scenes themselves.
About one and half hour into the film is where things actually begin to happen, as Matt and Alex’s quest for simultaneous revenge and catharsis brings them head to head with the target of their mutual hatred. It’s the actual confrontation itself that sucks audiences in most and gives the juicy, emotional scene they’ve been craving. And instead of falling flat soon after, the story cradles viewers through the rest of the film until its climax. The action may be past, but there’s still good story left to see, and it plays out far more interesting than the first half of the film.
There couldn’t have been a better cast for this film. George Clooney is a flawless Matt King, and perfectly plays the role of a man so disjointed in his life that he’s almost robotic. Shailene Woodley is fiery and authentically sells her character to audiences. Overall, it’s Amara Miller who provides the most powerful performance of the film. She’s a quirky, fun young girl who makes even strange situations both comical and warm, and supplies the film’s most emotional scene. While the other actors may illicit a sigh from viewers, Amara may actually pull a tear or two from even stone hearts. Without this stellar cast, the film wouldn’t have near the impact it does.
The soundtrack of the film plays well into the balance between heavenly scenery and tumultuous situations. Few slow, saddening tracks play during key scenes, but instead a medley of melodious tunes reinforces the Hawaiian feel with authentic drums, rhythm guitar, and soft singing. It reinforces the sentiment that the island’s natural beauty is in conflict with the harshness that each character is living through.
The trending Blu-ray and Digital Copy format provides movie owners a break from choosing to bolster their budding Blu-ray collection or broadening their DVD selection. The Blu-ray navigation menus are clear and easy to navigate, and the quality is what one would expect from the format. The scenes of the Hawaiian ocean and landscape will inspire dreams of vacations far away, even down to the rustic restaurants the characters frequent.
While the digital copy is just the movie itself, the Blu-ray does feature a few interesting extras that are worth checking out. Working with Alexander gives viewers an inside look in the creative mind of director Alexander Payne; how he interacts with the crew, his way of navigating film creation, and so on. The casting real also takes a fun look at how they chose the film’s crew, with the exception of Clooney, Bridges, and Woodley. Though somewhat entertaining, Everybody Loves George is really just a pat on the back for Clooney as the whole cast showers him with praise. The deleted scenes almost feel like a waste of disc space.
Overall, The Descendants is a heartwarming tale that rewards viewers for sticking through the slow first half. The Kings’ journey to finding happiness with each other from such terrible circumstances shows that life can be hard no matter where you live, and that with a little love and a lot of patience, one can overcome anything. And just like the King’s, when the film starts to seem like too much, just hold on a bit longer. The cast will make it worth your while.
Movie: A-, Disk: C+