January 13, 2012

The Descendants

The Descendants is based on Kaui Hart Hemmings' book about a (mostly absent) father who is forced to re-connect with his two daughters after his adventure-seeking wife is injured in a boating accident in Hawaii. George Clooney plays Matt King, a wealthy but down to earth land owner and practicing lawyer . He is descended from Hawaiian royalty, and in between hospital visits, he is trying to sell family land to make money for his lazy cousins who have squandered their inheritances. (Beau Bridges plays one of the cousins.)

As if Matt doesn't have enough on his plate, he finds out that his wife had been having a long-time affair. He sets out to find her lover, aided in part by his rebellious daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and her friend Sid (Nick Krause). To make matters worse, his father-in-law
(played by Robert Forster), thinks his daughter can do no wrong while giving Matt no credit whatsoever. You feel for him whenever he gets a dressing-down from his cheating wife's father.

Mr. Clooney's understated performance anchors the film, and he might even get an Oscar nod. He is the perfect mix of humor (Hawaiian shirts. That goofy run.) and pathos. One hospital scene in particular made me break down. His daughters are excellent as well: the lovable but troubled Scottie (Amara Miller), and headstrong Alexandra. You take that emotional journey with this father and his kids. The final scene was so moving in its simplicity but very cathartic.

Written and directed by Alexander Payne (along with screenwriters Nat Faxon and Jim Rash), the story is character-driven, and all the characters are human and relatable. I hope you'll enjoy the Hawaiian soundtrack as much as I did. This is one of the best family dramas I've seen in a long time.

(photo from Imp Awards)

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