DVD Review: The Descendants

STUDIO: Fox | DIRECTOR: Alexander Payne | CAST: George Clooney, Beau Bridges, Patricia Hastie, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause, Amara Miller
BLU-RAY & DVD RELEASE DATE: 3/13/2012 | PRICE: DVD $29.98, Blu-ray/DVD Combo $39.99
BONUSES: three featurettes; BD adds deleted scenes, additional featurettes, silent film on Hawaii, conversation between Payne and Clooney, music videos
SPECS: R | 115 min. | Comedy drama | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 | English, French and Spanish subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

In Alexander Payne’s Hawaii-based comedy-drama film The Descendants, George Clooney (The Ides of March) stars as Matt King, a successful lawyer but absentee father of native descent, who takes on the role of parent when his wife Elizabeth (Princess Kaiulani) slips into an irreversible coma following a boating accident. As executor of a valuable piece of family-owned real estate ripe for development, King has to weigh what to do with the land as he prepares to say goodbye to his wife—and learns of her secret love affair.

The Descendants

George Clooney and Shailene Woodley are driven to find the truth in The Descendants.

While the overall story arc is predictable, the movie’s heartfelt script, based on the best-selling novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, is colored with a palette of emotions by Clooney and a roster of solid supporting players. These include newcomer Amara Miller and Oscar-nominated Shailene Woodley (TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager) as King’s prepubescent and teenage daughters, Judy Greer (Barry Munday) as a scorned wife, and a surprisingly endearing Robert Forster (TV’s Alcatraz) as Elizabeth’s rough-hewn father. Beau Bridges (Columbus Circle), Nick Krause (How to Eat Fried Worms) and Matthew Lillard (Spooner) as Elizabeth’s lover are on hand to add some squirminess and comic relief to the proceedings.

Although The Descendants isn’t a movie that dwells on nature, the landscapes and cinematography look quite nice on DVD. The soundtrack is notable for the soulful native Hawaiian music as performed by some of the acknowledged greats of the genre.

The DVD supplements are slim, particularly for one of the year’s most acclaimed pictures (for which co-writers Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash picked up an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay). There are three short featurettes including the aptly named “Everybody Loves George” (is there a surprise to be found in that one?) and “Working with Alexander,”  wherein Payne offers that he brings a documentarian’s eye to his work, with his characters behaving like real people dealing with real-life situations. There’s a notabe insight or two to be found in the pair of featurettes, but both still come off as love-fests so loaded with saccharine that you’d probably drift off if they ran any longer. The third, “Hawaiian Style,” goes into how the local culture was injected into the movie, but spends an inordinate amount of time with the actors and crew pronouncing their favorite Hawaiian words.

The Blu-ray edition, which comes with the standard DVD and digital version, is far more comprehensive, adding several more featurettes, music videos, deleted scenes and a “conversation” with Clooney and Payne, but no commentary track.

The Descendants isn’t light entertainment by any stretch, nor is it much of an escape from real life, sumptuous backdrop notwithstanding. As in many of Alexander Payne’s films, the film zeroes in on characters in crisis who must overcome the often strangely-humorous drama that whirls around them and hopefully gain some insight during the process. This time around, the life lessons are played against a lush, tropical backdrop that sometimes disguises the fact that everybody has problems, even in paradise.


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About Gary

Gary Frisch has been contributing laserdisc, DVD and Blu-ray reviews to Video Business magazine, Home Theater Magazine, Home Theater Buyer’s Guide, Stereophile Guide to Home Theater and the DVD Guide for more than 14 years. He still has a collection of more than 40 laserdiscs, along with a working auto-reverse LD player, but thinks Blu-ray is da bomb and anxiously awaits the original Star Wars trilogy so he can buy it for the fifth time.