George Clooney plays a great leading man. Confident, intelligent, attractive, deep voice, dark skin - he has it all. But it’s also good to see him play a character who doesn’t quite have it together. The few times I’ve seen it - O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Men Who Stare at Goats - have proven to me that he is a legit actor, not just a pretty face.
Matt King is definitely not George Clooney. The Hawaiian native and descendant of the queen of Hawaii has the looks, voice, and dark skin, but the confidence he does not. As his wife (Patricia Hastie) sleeps in a boating accident-induced coma, he is thrust into the role of full time parent. His daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and teenager Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) don’t respect his authority. They speak with all manner of vulgar language despite his pleas for them to stop. Worse, he is - or was, rather - being cheated on by his wife with a grinning real estate agent (Matthew Lillard) he is first introduced to on a for sale sign. On top of that his wife’s partner in infidelity stands to gain millions on a business deal King is in charge of. In general he handles the situation adequately, sometimes poorly, but rarely with any grace.
Clooney’s body language sells Matt King best. He never displays that winning smile and he’s often hunching over a desk or slouching while standing. What I thought did it the best was the few times King had to run. His short, choppy strides are the opposite of elegant. His eyes showed a man straining to propel himself.
The Descendants is a movie about dealing with the loss of someone you’re angry with. After finding her mother out, Alexandra has moved away rather than look at her. Now she must come back and say goodbye, having never been able to discharge that anger. She’s the one who has to break it to her father, who himself had notions of reviving their marriage when his wife awoke. How are you supposed to feel when someone dies before you have a chance to right things? It’s a powerful statement about not waiting to fix things. None of us are that far from a boating accident-like moment in our lives.