Feb 8 2012 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge
THE Descendants follows Hawaiian land baron Matt (George Clooney) and his attempts to re-connect with daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) after his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) suffers a boating accident.
Matt takes Alexandra and Scottie on a trip to confront real estate broker Brian (Matthew Lillard) who was having an affair with Elizabeth before her accident.
The Descendants is based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel and has been doing well during the recent ‘awards season.’
The film is up for Best Director, Picture, Screenplay and Actor Oscars and for the most part it’s easy to see why.
Director Alexander Payne is no stranger to dramas dealing with the personal dilemmas of middle-aged men.
Matt could comfortably pop out for a meal with Sideways’ Miles (Paul Giamatti) and About Schmidt’s Warren (Jack Nicholson) to discuss the travails of life.
But despite some initially grumpy narration (“Paradise can go f*** itself”), Clooney’s Matt is not a hardened cynic like Miles or depressed/repressed entity like Warren.
He’s just trying to do right by his kids and deal with his wife’s infidelity.
It’s a dream role for Clooney. Sporting longer than usual hair and an array of Hawaiian shirts, he goes through a range of emotions and let’s his eyes do the talking.
One impressive scene sees Matt hit with news befitting an emotional sledgehammer and while externally he tries to keep himself together, his eyes can’t hide his internal grief.
Clooney is excellent but a career-best turn? For me that’s still his corporate downsizing expert in 2009’s Up in the Air.
It’s far from a one-man show. Woodley’s rebellious, cursing teen and Miller’s wise to the world youngster are wonderful and Lillard, best known for his psychotic killer in Scream, makes a lot of his small role.
Payne uses plenty of ukulele music on the soundtrack and ‘Postcards from Hawaii’-type camera establishing shots, making the most of his location.
He films some cracking scenes too, in particular Alexandra’s underwater grief and Matt’s cumbersome run in flip flops to ask about Elizabeth’s infidelity.
Payne also shares screenplay credits with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, making their big screen writing bows.
The story veers frequently between grief, humour and the value of family.
Laughs come from Nick Krause’s stoner Sid regularly putting his foot in it and telling it like it is, although his character does feel a little forced, and there’s some touching stuff in the final act’s hospital scenes.
What keeps The Descendants from reaching modern classic status (and likely the Best Picture Oscar) is a meandering second third where the family search for Brian, the pretty pointless and quickly abandoned voiceover and the failure to settle on just what kind of man Matt is.
But the top drawer acting and range of emotional moments more than keep its head above water.
Rating - 7 out of 10.