Alexander Payne‘s The Descendents is set in Hawaii. The beautiful scenery, however, is somewhat masked by the King family’s misfortune.
The movie opens with a voice-over from Matt King (George Clooney) describing the accident that put his wife in a coma. While telling rather than showing (especially with voice-overs) is openly frowned upon in Screenwriters 101, it seemed to work in the opening of this movie for the most part. Still there are a few lines that I found unnecessary – you have George Clooney for God’s sake, let him act!
The good news is this was the only thing that bothered me in the movie and it lasted for only about 10 seconds.
Matt King is a father of 2 girls, and has always been “the backup parent” until his wife’s accident. He talks of renewing his love for his wife once she wakes from her coma, taking her on trips and buying her the boat she always wanted. Soon he discovers that his wife was cheating on him and planning on asking for a divorce.
The movie follows Matt as he faces raising two daughters alone and deals with a dying, unfaithful wife. Clooney and his character’s two daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shailene Woodly), beautifully embody the mixed emotions of anger, sorrow, pain, and love that confront the whole family.
Sid, played by Austin-bred Nick Krause, is a smaller, still very well developed character. Most of the movie’s humor is derived from Sid, yet we are also shown a softer side as he helps the family move through their pain.
Payne’s cinematography showed similarities to a few Wes Anderson films such as Rushmore, Life Aquatic, and The Royal Tenenbaums. Many of the scenes in The Descendents heavily focused on silent action and silent emotion, revealing more about the character and less about the scene – Wes Anderson thrives on this technique.
I keep ending up at movies like this one – movies where I quietly sob in the theater in between bouts of laughter. Perhaps this is a rising trend of comedies with heavy emotional content.