REVIEW: The Descendants

“How was your break?”

“Good, great; not long enough.”

Common back-to-school banter. How many times have you undergone this interaction since returning for the new semester? Several, I am imagining. Break was good, but not long enough to do all the things you had wanted. My unfulfilled bucket list included making a white bean pie à la….whoever that one special baker is at the Eastern Market, knitting a scarf, and seeing “The Descendants.”

Fortunately, the new Alexander Payne film is still showing at the State Theater, long after the holidays. The screenwriter who brought you About Schmidt (2002) and Sideways (2004) is back with another round of cleverly spelled out, real-life drama. Based on the book of the same title by Kaui Hart Hemmings (2007), the movie stars George Clooney, Shailene Woodley of The Secret Life of an American Teenager, and several other highly talented albeit B-List celebrities (Beau Bridge, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer). I say confidently that The Descendants makes for a solid cinematographic success. In an artful balance of raw tragedy and tender love, dark moments and comic relief, the movie deserves a heartfelt nod.

The story is about Matt King, a busy lawyer living in Hawaii with his wife and two teenage daughters. Why Hawaii? Matt is the heir to a substantial piece of undeveloped property that once belonged to his great great great (great) grandmother, an important island native. The land is in the process of being sold to resort-ville, the money in turn funding Matt’s cousins- or- the descendants. An interruption to the business plan interferes within the first five minutes of the flick: Elizabeth, Matt’s wife, is involved in a boating accident that leaves her in a serious coma.

Suddenly, Matt is confronted with losing his wife, fathering his unruly, dirty-mouthed teenage daughters, and managing the sale of his sacred inheritance. To add a little flavor to the mix, as if that isn’t spicy enough, Matt finds out from his oldest daughter that his wife is not everything he had thought (spoiler alert!): she has been cheating on him. (don’t worry too much though, you find that out in the trailer).

In an unusual series of events, Matt, his daughters Scottie and Alex, and Alex’s unbelievably dense boyfriend, find themselves on an adventure to uncover the man with whom Elizabeth has been unfaithful. A whirlwind of shouts, tears, laughter- the usual gammat of emotions- brings the family to a new and unexpected place of closeness.

Am I glad I saw the movie? Yes.

Did I think it was one of the best movies I’ve ever seen? No.

Did I appreciate the clever writing, skillful timing, atypical story line, and unbearably realistic acting? Yes.

Did it make me laugh aloud? A few times.

Did it make me cry? No, but if I’d been having a hard day it sure would have.

Was the soundtrack worth downloading? Absolutely, check iTunes now.

Did the scenery make me want to move to Hawaii immediately? Yes and yes.

Did I enjoy watching George Clooney do his thing? I think we all know the answer to that one.

I recommend seeing it, if it didn’t make your bucket list over the holidays. If nothing else, I appreciate a film that is complex enough that you have to actually watch the whole thing to truly understand the derivation of the title. And, once again, the acting was top notch.

The Descendants is playing at the State Theater through Thursday, January 19th at 4:30, 7:00, and 9:30 pm. Student tickets cost $8, and matinées cost $7. Take a friend, take a box of tissues, take a break from studying (already!) Let me know what you think!