The Descendants – 4.5 stars

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Another Alexander Payne gem.  I’m always heartened by a picture about family and relationships that is neither pat, cute and unreal or so raw and uncompromising that you’re driven to awkward discomfort.  George Clooney is more than believable as a father whose wife has an accident and is in a coma, having to deal with establishing relationships with his 2 daughters while also learning that his wife was having an affair.  On top of these woes, Clooney is the trustee of a pristine piece of Hawaii, and his family naturally wants to sell to the highest bidder.  So, no stress there.

All the characters ring true, from the wife’s grief-stricken and angry father (Robert Forster) to the rebellious daughter (Shailene Woodley) to his wife’s scared lover (Matthew Lillard) to his shattered wife (Judy Greer).  Particularly strong is Nick Krause as Woodley’s boyfriend, who happens along to be with her as she comes back from college to deal with the tragedy.  He could have been ill-used as the clueless stoner/comedic relief, and while he is funny at moments, he’s also real and his placement is deft.

The film meanders a little, and it tests Clooney’s depth (plus audience credulity – what wife cheats on George Clooney?), but those are nits.  This is a rich portrait.

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2 comments
  1. Denise Sheehan said:

    Saw this movie last Friday and I am still thinking about it. It didn’t feel like a movie; it felt as if I had stumbled into someone’s life. I was so engrossed that, at one point, I mentally thought – wow, that guy in the bar looks like Beau Bridges! only to realize 30 sec later that , yeah , it was Beau Bridges – he’s an actor playing a part.

    Great writing, understated acting – this one I would watch again.

    • Agreed. I was concerned about Clooney as a schlub, but he was effectively schlubbish. It felt like you were overhearing another family, especially in the hospital.

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