Set in present day Hawaii starring George Clooney as Matt, a lawyer whose wife is in a coma after a boating accident. He wants to be with his daughters to await the outcome of his wife’s accident. His older daughter is accompanied by her boyfriend who has had a recent bereavement. His older daughter tells him his wife had had an affair with Brian Spears. Matt has some unspoilt land in trust and he will sell it to rake in a fortune, Spears, he learns, will be involved in the business deal. He wants to confront Spears and tell him about his wife’s condition. Will Spears visit her? Matt and his family visit his wife Elizabeth and await the doctor’s verdict. Will Matt sign away the land?
When I was young we got Hawaii Five O on TV, a cop series. The music was brash and local Hawiian culture was acknowledged in an offhand and touristy way. Half a century later we get ecological sensitivity and cultural diversity in the guardianship of Matt the patron saint of liberal chic and right-on rhetoric. The US takeover of Hawaii was of course colonialist and although he has some indigenous Hawiian ancestry, we realize that Matt is effectively a beneficiary of colonialist theft. He stresses that the land is in trust to his family but he can make millions of dollars out of it, it’s his to dispose of. Matt reminds us in voice over that Hawaii is no paradise but shares the same problems as the rest of the world, as if we needed to be told that This introducing us to the wise guy commentator whose observations about quirkiness are meant to be hilarious, not so in The Descendants. This film seems to share similarities with Little Miss Sunshine and Juno but lacks the wit and comic inventiveness of those films. Alexander Payne directed this and it reminds me of his other unlovely look at middle class, middle aged, male, self pity about the wine boozers in Sideways (2004). Considering the things he goes through in this story Matt seems remarkably unchanged, we get Clooney’s same smug one-expression-that-fits-all-occasions at the end as at the beginning. I could be missing something here but to me Clooney exploits his easy on the eye appearance to keep you waiting for some intelligent riposte, but you often get a banal remark. Juno and Little Miss Sunshine benefit from quirky characters caught in comical situations often based on incongruities of appearance, manner, and intention with the surrounding social contexts but Matt’s character is always in charge, his wounded vanity guilt-tripping the man who cuckolded him. There is no room for comic misunderstandings. The lad is mildly amusing, he gets a whack on the face from Elizabeth’s father who blames Matt for not giving his daughter the money for a better life. This guy is avaricious and unlikeable. The wronged wife commiserates with Matt in the hospital, and the over all tone is sentimental. Matt gets a chance to save the unspoilt land in the face of pressure from his avaricious family (especially Beau Bridges).
None of the characters are likeable. The two daughters are motor-mouthed attitudes and it’s not heartwarming. An unlikeable and unpleasant film