What do they inherit?
And what do they make of that inheritance?
When I first heard about the film The Descendants and saw the trailer, I was excited. Who wouldn’t be won over by the sight of George Clooney jogging dorkily? I liked director Alexander Payne’s Sideways and Election, the premise of the film seemed interesting, the setting intriguing, and I can deal with George Clooney, jogging dorkily or..whatever.
But then it was released, I read the decidedly mixed reviews, and took a pass until it came to the small screen. Which it did, for me, a couple of weeks ago.
A lost opportunity, to be sure, especially if you read the book, which I then proceeded to do, last week.
If you saw the movie because you thought it had potential, but ended up all “meh” about it as I was...try the book. That’s where all the potential got stuck.
(In a good way.)
It’s not perfect, but I enjoyed the book – it’s much better than the film.
Plot: Matthew King is an attorney who lives in Hawaii, as have his ancestors. He is “haole” – a descendant of white settlers, in his case, intermarried with natives. He and his cousins are owners of a huge swathe of undeveloped land, the fate of which must be decided soon.
Matthew King is also married with two daughters. His wife lies in a coma, the result of a boating accident a couple of weeks before the plot begins.
How will the descendants of the missionary and the princess deal with they have been left?
How will the widow and the motherless children deal with what they have been left, which includes the knowledge that their mother was, at the time of her death, having an affair?
In the film, the various threads never really come together. In the book they almost do, partly because in the novel, the process of Elizabeth’s dying is far more extended than it is in the film, and the other characters’ stances towards her have more of a chance to develop.
It’s astonishing to me (although it probably shouldn’t be) that The Descendants got a Best Picture nomination. The first third of the film was well done (if not Oscar-worthy, whatever that means), but the rest was, if not a disaster, a definite …nothing.
Neither the novel nor the film dig as deeply as they needed to in order to really get a hook on what grief and regret – not to speak of grief in the shadow of regret and regret in the shadow of grief – are really all about.
Here’s the thing. Grief, even in the best of circumstances, seems to inevitably lead to questions of …did I really know that person as well as I thought I did? How much more deeply could we have known each other if he/she had lived? And how much better would have done that thing we were doing?
The Descendants had an opportunity to explore that question in a particularly heightened way. But, as per usual, the ball was dropped, perhaps because the creators – the novelist, originally, and later, the filmmaker, didn’t know that much about the ball they were playing with. They had an intuition, but not the experience to give the work authenticity.
Plus, I figured out the Problem With George Clooney. His acting stops short of his eyes. A pretty man, but his eyes remain a cool, unmoved center, no matter what the situation. Someone – it might even have been my mother – once said that you can tell a real actor because he acts with his whole being, most importantly – his eyes.
Oh, but it all made me determined to go to Hawaii. So..there’s that.
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