Film director Alexander Payne comes as close as anyone to capturing the nuances of modern life in Hawaii in his film The Descendants starring George Clooney. He found extras for the film by shooting in downtown Honolulu and hiring local people to stand in, according to one extra who appears briefly in a busy street scene wearing the standard Hawaii work attire of khaki pants and an aloha shirt. Payne also captures utterly gorgeous footage of O’ahu’s Windward side and Kauai’s Hanalei Bay, where the light is ethereal and the beaches golden. It’s enough to make this island girl deeply homesick.
The Descendants is available on DVD through Amazon and other online sellers, or you can watch The Descendants on instant view through Amazon. There is also a The Descendants: A Novel (Random House Movie Tie-In Books) by Kaui Hart Hemmings, who appears briefly in the film as Clooney’s character’s legal secretary.
The film traces the struggles of a wealthy haole family (with Clooney at the head), who in the midst of personal tragedy must decide whether to sell to developers or preserve 25,000 acres of pristine land on Kauai. In the process, the family heals old wounds and becomes closer. Overall, the acting is good, and George Clooney’s performance is one of his best. He is also very easy on the eyes. Much of the writing is great. The film is moving and enjoyable.
The best part of the film is the music. The Descendants soundtrack is a remarkable collection of songs, mostly sung in Hawaiian or strummed slack-key, by some of Hawaii’s most beloved artists–such as The Gabby Pahinui Hawaiian Band, Vol. 1, John Kalapana, the Beemers, Slack Key Guitar: The Artistry of Jeff Peterson, and Makana.
My main critique is that the film shows us little to nothing meaningful about the people who lost everything so this white family could own the land. But this is typical of narratives about Hawaii. Storytellers minimize the devastation wrought by colonial outsiders, including those who married natives, and downplay a horrific chapter in U.S. history in order to make their audiences feel better about watching. Payne is no different, but at least his story is a more nuanced version. Clooney’s character acknowledges at the end of the film that, “we are mostly haole…who own this land for some bullshit reason.”
The film was nominated in 2012 for Academy Awards in four categories:
|Best Motion Picture of the Year
|Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
|Best Achievement in Directing
|Best Achievement in Film Editing
The film won the oscar in one category: