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The Descendants (2011)

Starring:

Amara Miller

Barbara L. Southern

Beau Bridges

George ClooneyGeorge Clooney

Grace A. Cruz

Judy Greer

Judy Greer

Karen Kuioka Hironaga

Kim Gennaula

Mary Birdsong

Matt Corboy

Matthew Lillard

Milt Kogan

Nick Krause

Patricia Hastie

Rob Huebel

Robert Forster

Shailene Woodley

Tom McTigue

Directed by:

Alexander Payne

Rating: 8/10

Running Time: 115 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15

Matt King (Clooney) is a land baron in Hawaii with a few problems on his hands. His wife (Hastie) is in a coma after a boating accident and he’s left looking after two difficult kids (Woodley and Miller). It turns out that his wife has been having an affair with a Real Estate agent (Lillard in an actual grown up role) who is also heavily involved in the complicated issue of a huge plot of expensive land owned by the King family.

The problem with movies about the grieving process is that the overwhelming, uninterrupted dirge of depression becomes emotional overkill and the enjoyment factor of going to the movies is completely lost. Alexander Payne has got the mood just right with grief taking the centre stage but with plenty of dry humour, folksy and Hawaiian music and footage courtesy of the Hawaiian tourism bureau to lighten the mood at the right points. The quest to uncover who was behind the affair and the decision of what to do with Matt’s land also gives escapism and purpose to the story.

The cast do a great job as the nuclear family plus Sid (Krause) as each of them comes across as believable and likeable thanks to some very intelligent writing. Clooney has obviously been working on his pained and confused expression, confused and pained expression and the simple pained expression and he’s got them down to a tee. His character does suffer a little from glorification though as I thought they would push the absent father/husband card a little more. The teenager is not the usual bi-polar caricature, the youngest is tender and totally mental and much-needed comic relief always comes from Sid.

The only problems lie in the feeling that the runtime is a little protracted with some scenes worthy of a cut. Also, Matt almost manages to torpedo all the credibility built up throughout the film with one cliched deathbed speech but this little slip can be forgiven.

 

It's Got: Excellent performances from all the family, the right mix of sadness, pathos and going off on a tangent

It Needs: To cut the cringeworthy deathbed scene, to feel a little less drawn out, a more unbiased look at Matt

Alternatives:

About Schmidt, Sideways, The Son's Room

Summary

The Descendants is a bittersweet tale of a family sticking together in trying times. With the perfect mix of grief, humour and charm this is the best thing to come out of Hawaii since Dog the Bounty Hunter.

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