A high school teacher's personal life becomes complicated as he works with students during the school elections, particularly with an obsessive overachiever determined to become student body president.
Matt King's family has lived in Hawaii for generations. His extended family - namely he and his many cousins - own 25,000 acres of undeveloped land on Kauai held in trust, which ends in seven years. The easiest thing for the family to do is sell the land before the seven years is up, which is all the talk in the state, as, to whom they sell the property could very well change the face of Kauai. Despite the vast wealth that comes with the land, Matt has decided to live solely on what he earns as a Honolulu lawyer. However, Matt has not had a perfect life living in Hawaiian paradise as many believe. He and his wife Elizabeth were having problems in their marriage. She recently got into a boating accident which has placed her in a coma. Their seventeen year old daughter Alex is in boarding school on the big island since they couldn't handle her rebellion, which was made all the worse by an argument of an unknown nature between mother and daughter during Alex's last visit home. And their ...Written by
Kaui Hart Hemmings: Matt's assistant, Noe, who announces "Your cousins are here" when Matt is prepares to meet with his relatives at his law office. See more »
When Matt approaches Julie as she stands on the beach watching her kids, her hands are on her hips, with her thumbs facing forward. After Matt comments the kids are a handful, her hands are still on her hips but her thumbs are facing backward. See more »
My friends on the mainland think just because I live in Hawaii, I live in paradise. Like a permanent vacation. We're all just out here sipping Mai Tais, shaking our hips, and catching waves. Are they insane?
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Payne knows exactly what he's doing, and what he's doing is tremendous.
Alexander Payne hasn't made a film from the director's chair since his incredible Sideways back in 2004. Seven years later, he finally returns, and with The Descendants, he returns with a bang.
Like Sideways, his screenplay (co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) nails the tone right on the head. It has to balance out three tricky narratives in the film (Matt King's self-crisis, his comatose wife's affair with another man before her boating accident, and a land deal he's reported to make), and without the proper guidance it needed, along with Payne's own confidant direction, it could have faltered. Thankfully, it balances out heavy themes and complicated emotions in uncommon detail.
The characters in this movie are many, complicated, and sorrowful in their own unique ways. Matt King was a perfect role for George Clooney. He keeps his composure, but we can still see a very heavy, filtered sorrow beneath the surface. Shailene Woodley's character (Woodley, by the way, gives one of the year's best performances) begins with a rebellious, even angry sadness, but we can see her develop over the course of the film, gaining a strong maturity beyond her years. Judy Greer and Robert Forster are each given a few spare scenes, and they make every second of their screen time count.
It really is an emotional ride, even depressing sometimes, but I'm surprised by the occasional review I read where critics say they didn't feel the emotion to be sincere. In my opinion, the emotions of the film never hit a single false note. I don't think just anybody could have made this movie the way it is. This isn't a typical drama, the movie's genre is Payne, and he knows exactly what he's doing.
***1/2 out of ****
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