Oscar buzz focuses gaze on "The Descendants"

By Carolyn Williams


After sweeping the Golden Globes, all eyes are turned to Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” at this year’s Academy Awards, where it is nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director.

Adapted from Kaui Hart Hemmings’s novel of the same title, the movie deals with a family in transition. Matt King (George Clooney, “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Up In the Air”) is in the midst of a real estate decision which will shape the future of Hawaii. As descendants of Hawaiian royalty, the Kings are making history by deciding to sell off a massive tract of land for an enormous personal profit, and the choice of who gets it falls squarely on Matt’s shoulders.

However, Matt’s immediate family is considerably distracted by the coma and imminent death of Matt’s wife, Elizabeth. Wounded in a boating accident, Elizabeth has been comatose long enough for her living will to mandate ending her life support, and it is this crisis which brings the dysfunctional Kings back together again. Matt’s daughters, he begins to realize, are far beyond the realm of his parental preparation. Between Scottie (Amara Miller), a feisty 10-year-old caught bullying classmates, Alex (Shailene Woodley, “Secret Life of the American Teenager”), an outspoken teenager recovering from drug abuse, and Alex’s unusual friend Sid (Nick Krause), Matt is in well over his head.

To add to an already unpleasant situation, Alex’s return from boarding school brings some unwelcome news: Elizabeth’s affair, unknown to Matt till now. Furious and also conflicted, after all his wife loved this man, Matt, his daughters and the ever-uncouth Sid set out to find her lover, allowing him the chance to say goodbye to the woman who loved him, and, more importantly, giving the family a chance for closure with the woman they’re about to lose.

Beautifully following the plot of Hemmings’s novel, “The Descendants” delivers both grief and unexpectedly joyful humor, creating a unique dichotomy which received mixed reviews amongst viewers.

“While the commentary on family dynamics was at once interesting and engaging, the humor detracted from the serious issues at hand,” Kate Wilsterman ’14 said. 

The majority seem to find the film’s offbeat comedy entertaining.

“‘The Descendants’ would be characterized as a depressing movie if it weren’t for the subtle humor and the family moments that make it unfailingly honest and memorable,” Ava Giuliano ’14 said. 

Regardless, “The Descendants” is the must-see film of the moment, and with good reason. Between Clooney’s impeccable performance in the lead role, and the truly excellent supporting cast (specifically Shailene Woodley, whose sass and anger carry any lagging moments), the movie’s many nominations are well deserved; it only remains to be seen what the Academy’s final word will be later this month.

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