Aloha, it’s Burl! Ha ha, would you like to spend time in Hawaii? I bet just about anyone would! It’s always nice to see a movie that takes you there for a couple of hours, and the picture I’m reviewing today, whatever else it may or may not do, does that! It’s called The Descendents, and it stars none other than the handsome man of renown, George “Return to Horror High” Clooney!
He plays a guy whose family owns a big patch of land on one of the islands, which he has to decide whether or not to sell off to one hotelsman or another! Meanwhile his wife has just suffered a boating accident, and he’s found out a few unsavoury things about her pre-accident conduct – turns out she was having an af*air on him! Ha ha! So while his wife languishes in a comatose state in a Honolulu hospital, he goes about trying to corral his wayward daughters and find the fellow his wife was sl*eping with!
That’s the plot, more or less! The movie’s all about families and relationships and unfinished business and shots at redemption so obvious as to be recognized for what they are, and even what they represent, by the characters themselves! It’s about Hawaii too, in a semi-sneaky way; that is, it seeks to demythologize the experience of living there, while also providing evidence that living there when you have enough money to keep a fancy house and go island hopping whenever you take a notion to, can be a lot of fun! The picture’s main argument vis-à-vis Hawaii is that tragedy and dysfunction can strike island denizens as frequently and as hard as it can mainlanders, but I don’t think anyone ever asserted otherwise!
The picture was directed by Alexander Payne, and as with his other works, there’s comedy in here and drama too, and tonal shifts that are meant to catch viewers by surprise! Unlike some of his other movies, and here I’m thinking Election mainly, and Sideways too, there’s a dearth of satiric energy and bite; this appears to have been replaced by a sincerity of purpose that feels at times like a hug from an over-affectionate oaf!
But at least the loving oaf in my analogy would be wearing a Hawaiian shirt! A little tropical atmosphere goes a long way with ol’ Burl, I have to confess, and it’s no different here! The relaxed slack key guitar score is a real plus too! I thought Clooney was pretty good, and that the older daughter was pretty, and I liked that every now and again a beloved familiar face would appear on screen, like Robert "Alligator" Forster or Beau "The Wizard" Bridges or Michael "Slap Shot" Ontkean!
So while the picture didn’t really work perfectly for me in the dramatic comedy realm it means to inhabit – though it has its moments, sure sure – it was the ostensible incidentals, which were by design more central than they pretended to be, that kept me interested! I don’t rush out to see these middlebrow pictures as much as I used to, but I enjoyed this one well enough! I’ll give The Descendents two and a half punches in the eye from Grandpa!