FILMS – in their golden age – used to rely almost solely on two things: a good story and solid acting.
There was no curtain of CGI to hide behind or big budget special effects, in fact the most they had to work with was probably a controlled explosion in a studio car park.
The Descendants is a nod to that sort of old-time simplicity. There’s no bloodshed or stunt doubles required – even the film’s setting on the islands of Hawaii play second fiddle to its soap opera core.
This is a film that relies wholly on the drama of family life fraying at the seams, and is a breath of fresh tropical air in these times of ostentatious film extravagance.
George Clooney plays indifferent husband and father Matt King who finds out while his wife is in a coma that she was having an affair – borne of his workaholic neglect and her desperate housewife syndrome.
Clooney is his usual understated self, never really losing his rag as he rightly should, until he throws – watch out – a teddy bear across the room.
He bears the sudden weight of moral consciousness with the sort of underplayed manner he’s known for – all heavy sighs and furrowed brows as he comes to realise he needs to step up to the roles he has neglected.
As he tries to deal with the double whammy of his wife’s infidelity versus her imminent death and a duo of semi-delinquent daughters, a string of money-grabbing cousins are constantly in the background nagging him to sell a Hawaiian beauty spot to another developer with plans to turn paradise into a parking lot.
Shailene Woodley, playing college student daughter, Alexandra, pins down middle class rebellion to a T and steals the show from Clooney with her sharp put-downs and wide-eyed wit, while Amara Miller strikes a cheeky balance between heartbreaking innocence and a foul mouthed copycat as ten-year-old Scottie.
The Descendants – while flirting with the unspectacular at times – is a melodrama tinged with solemnity and seriousness, but the moments of quiet tragedy colour it with heartbreaking poignancy.
It’s a tale that deals with grief, loyalty and death offset with a sprinkling of black humour. Sometimes when you go to the cinema, that’s all that’s needed.