The Descendants Dir: Alexander Payne

It’s been seven years since Alexander Payne wrote and directed a film…2004’s Sideways…but The Descendants, starring George Clooney, was definitely worth the wait.

 It seems that most films that come out of Hollywood these days need to appeal to children to be successful. Just think of what’s out there now…Hugo, Tin Tin, War Horse, Happy Feet, Alvin & The Chipmunks plus any number of comic-book superhero franchises, The Hobbit…I could go on and on. So it’s a relief to come across a film made for adults.

 The Descendants is a movie for grown-ups. George Clooney’s character, Matt King, is a middle-aged lawyer living inHonolulu. Despite the location of his hometown, there is very little exotic about his life. He has been saddled with making the decision of what to do with a large parcel of land that has been in his family for generations. Does he sell it? If so, to whom? He has a dozen or so cousins and other family members giving him advice. His decision will affect their lives and the environment hugely.

 While all of this is going on, his wife Elizabeth has just been in a boating accident and is in a coma. Her injuries are life-threatening. Suddenly he finds himself in charge of his two daughters, Scottie (age 10) and Alex (age 17). Both are a handful and Matt feels completely ill-equipped for the job.

 To top things off, Matt finds out something about his marriage that almost tips him over the edge. Middle-age crisis indeed.

 The material calls for intelligent, subtle and nuanced performance both from the actors and the director. Fortunately, that’s just what we get.

 Clooney performance is a revelation. He communicates a raft of emotions just by his facial expressions. I’m not talking about hammy mugging for the camera, but genuine high-quality acting. Who thought the man was capable of such things?

 The subject matter gets pretty maudlin, and there were many tears shed by the audience when I saw the film. Fortunately Payne and his co-writers have added just enough humour in the script to make the powerful emotions on display here bearable. Alex’s stoner boyfriend, Sid (Nick Krause) provides much of the welcome comic relief. The only false note comes when Clooney attempts a bit of slap-stick while stalking a rival at the beach. It comes off cartoonish and out of place and feels like an outtake from O Brother Where Art Thou.

 Otherwise this an excellent, mature, well-written, well-directed and well-acted drama that deserves all the Oscars it can muster at the upcoming awards ceremony.

 Marty Duda