DVD: The Descendents

 Hawaii is often thought of as a vacation destination, a tropical paradise where beaches and sunny days make it easy to forget life’s cares. The Descendants, however, which is set in Hawaii, exposes the inevitable other side of paradise, where real life and family tragedy exist among the coconut palms.

Now available on a single-disc DVD (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, MSRP: $29.98) and two-disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack (MSRP: $39.99), the Academy Award-winning film is one of those so-called quiet movies: there isn’t much action, and though there is plenty of drama, it’s more internal than expressed in bursts of violence or passion.

Adapted from the debut novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, the story revolves around real estate lawyer Matt King (George Clooney), reeling after his thrill-seeking wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) lapses into a coma following a boating accident. For years, Matt has been coasting along as the “backup parent” to his spirited daughters, 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), and is only beginning to see how troubled both truly are.

As he deals with Scottie’s bullying behavior at school and Alex’s emotional detachment, he aches for his wife’s return to health. However, Matt’s cluelessness has extended to his personal life as well, as fresh-out-of-rehab Alex informs him that his wife had been having an affair. He struggles to come to terms with this news just as the doctors inform him that his wife is deteriorating, and the terms of her living will specify that they must terminate life support soon.

It becomes Matt’s job to inform relatives and friends of Elizabeth’s condition, in order to allow them the opportunity to say good-bye. He enlists Alex’s help—and she, in turn, brings along surfer friend Sid (Nick Krause). The reactions vary from tears to anger (and earn Sid a punch in the eye), but all agree to make the trip to the hospital to say their farewells. After discovering the identity of the man his wife was seeing, Matt ultimately decides to reach out to her lover (a subdued Matthew Lillard) as well.

At the eye of this swirling hurricane of emotional trauma is a land sale being brokered by Matt’s family. As the descendants of Hawaiian missionaries and a Hawaiian princess, the family trust fell heir to a huge tract of undeveloped land on Kauai, of which Matt is the trustee. The cousins are all gathering to vote on one of the billion-dollar bids, foremost of which include selling to a local investor, which Matt himself backed, but a new development suddenly has him rethinking his strategy as both a businessman and a parent.

Though the surface emotions rise and fall as gently as the Hawaiian surf, the actors all do an outstanding job of portraying the simmering undercurrents in each scene. Woodley and Miller, in particular, exhibit the unwilling maturity of kids whose parents are too busy fighting their own demons to notice the problems at home, while still maintaining a child-like innocence at their core.

Clooney rightly deserved his Academy Award nomination, embodying Matt’s tepid personality and discomfort with the turns his life takes with subtlety and just enough gravitas. Both Robert Forster (as Elizabeth’s angry father) and Beau Bridges (as the beach-bum cousin Hugh) are terrific counterpoints to Clooney’s middle-of-the-road expressions, and each differently highlights Matt’s ultimate inability to engage in his own life.

One of the uncredited stars of the film has to be the state of Hawaii itself, as the gently swaying trees and cultural iconography all permeate the story, lulling the viewer with its lush beauty and distracting them from the harsh realities of the story.

The single-disc DVD contains a few special features, along with the theatrical trailer and some sneak peeks of upcoming releases.

First off, it’s not just females who swoon over Clooney. The featurette “Everybody Loves George” shows why the actor is a guy’s guy, an actor’s best friend, a director’s dream and an all-around great guy. Funnier than his movie roles, Clooney is revealed as a prankster, impersonator and a teller of great tales.

Directors can be a quirky bunch, and the featurette “Working with Alexander” showcases just how true that is of Oscar winner Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election). Also functioning as a co-writer and producer of the film, Payne wore many hats throughout the process, and was universally beloved by the cast and crew (as these testimonials show). As laid-back as the islands on which they filmed, this short feature is a perfect portrait of an artist (and also showcases a couple of no-fail omelet techniques to boot).

If, as the adage goes, into every life a little rain must fall, where better to endure a storm than the Hawaiian islands? In “Hawaiian Style,” viewers are treated to the many things that make Hawaii a special place to film. From the blessing on the first day of shooting to the colorful expressions picked up by all, it is clear that family made up of cast and crew were far more functional than the fictional Kings.

The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack adds to the extras four additional featurettes (“The Real Descendants,” “Casting,” “Working with Water” and “Waiting for the Light”), the silent film The World Parade—Hawaii, a conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne, three music videos (“Honolulu’s Whisper,” “Postcards from Paradise” and “Will I Ever See You Again”), deleted scenes and a digital copy of the film.

While the ending of The Descendants isn’t wrapped up in a bow (or even a brightly colored lei), there are a few rays of hope penetrating the overall sadness for the family’s future. If anything, this movie should make viewers appreciate their own families a bit more…and perhaps plan to spend some time with them on that long dreamed of trip to Hawaii.

The Descendants is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. 

Posted on LifeInLA.com

No comments:

Post a Comment