CAPSULE: This is an amiable comedy-drama directed and co-written by Alexander Payne. Matt King (played by George Clooney) has at least three problems all at once. His wife is in a coma after a boating accident, his two daughters are rebelling against him, and he has to decide to whom to sell a sizable family estate of Hawaiian land. Matt finds himself searching for a man from his wife's past whom he has never met. Along the way he hopes to reunite his family. As with his previous film SIDEWAYS, Payne leaves the watcher wondering where the film is going. Well-acted and touching with a mild eye for human foibles, this is one of the better-written films of the year. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
Matt King is from one of the great old Euro (Haole) families of the Hawaiian Islands. His family was granted large stretches of now very valuable Kauai land. Generations ago Hawaiian royalty made the grant when one of King's white ancestors married a Hawaiian queen. The law has now changed and says that the family has seven years to sell the land. Matt's task is to decide to whom. All over Hawaii, locals are anxious over Matt's upcoming decision. But Matt has a lot more on his mind. Just a few days earlier Matt's wife Elizabeth fell off a boat in a Waikiki boat race. She struck her head leaving her in a coma. Matt also has to make decisions about her and her future. And to add a little spice to these heavy decisions, his two daughters, aged 17 and 10, both unhappy and unpleasant, are making his life more difficult. Matt never has had time to be with his family. Now as the only parent, he has to make time to be with his two resentful daughters. He soon realizes his daughter Alexandra knew more about his wife than he did himself. The film is by turns sad, touching, and funny. Matt finds he will have to search for a man he has never met but who is an important piece of Elizabeth's life.
Payne gives us the expected lush views of Hawaii plastered over by native songs (though luckily not the "Hawaiian War Chant"). Clooney's character is supposed to be at least in small part native Hawaiian. But apparently that heritage is well diluted--we all know George Clooney does not look particularly Hawaiian. This is not a memorable role because it is not flamboyant or greatly comic. But he does play the role perfectly, giving us the impression that this is the real George Clooney showing through the character. Some of the faces we see in the film are familiar, even if they are not pivotal roles. Beau Bridges is little used playing one of the cousins concerned about the sale and the usually mild-mannered Robert Forster plays Elizabeth's abraded and abrasive father. Just as Clooney allowed himself to be upstaged by young Anna Kendrick in UP IN THE AIR, here he affords the same courtesy to Shailene Woodley in a memorable if not star-making role as the rebellious daughter Alexandra. Her sister Scottie, ten years old, seems a little bewildered and starting to be troublesome. Nick Krause plays Alexandra's friend Sid who just seems to hang around, even on plane flights, giving a vibe like Keanu Reeves in PARENTHOOD.
THE DESCENDANTS seems like too old-fashioned and simple a story to get much attention. That was just about exactly what I thought about Payne's SIDEWAYS, so we know about how reliable that instinct is. I rate THE DESCENDANTS a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1033575/
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_descendants_2011/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2011 Mark R. Leeper