At the movies: *The Descendants*

The Descendants
2011, Drama/Comedy (PG-13)
Starring: George Clooney
Drected by: Alexander Payne
Written by: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

Synopsis, via RottenTomatoes.com:From Alexander Payne, the creator of the Oscar-winning Sideways, set in Hawaii, The Descendants is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney) an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. — (C) Fox Searchlight

After seeing The Descendants, I’m putting the novel it was adapted from on my wish list (despite the fact that the novel won’t have George Clooney). This is the sort of domestic fiction that I just eat up.

The “descendants” are the sprawling King family, whose deep roots in Hawaii include one of the last members of the islands’ royal family and the largest undeveloped tract of land on Kauai. The land, now worth many millions of dollars, has been held in trust for decades, but that arrangement is a few years from ending, and the numerous King cousins are entertaining sales offers and debating whether to sell it at all. Cousin Matt, a real-estate attorney, is the official trustee and will eventually act on the family’s vote, but he’s a little distracted right now: his wife Elizabeth is in a coma after a boating accident, and he’s just been told she won’t come out of it. Matt hasn’t been the most dedicated family man, but now he has to try to connect with his children and prepare everyone to say goodbye–a prospect complicated by a revelation his elder daughter shares about her mother.

The family drama that fuels The Descendants is leavened by some very funny character-consistent dialogue, particularly from Matt’s daughters Alex and Scottie; as Tall Paul observed, at least one of the writers must have kids. Some reviewers have criticized the frequent shifts in tone between comedy and drama, but they feel consistent with the story and the emotions are honest. The Hawaiian scenery is as gorgeous as you’d expect, and Clooney’s portrayal of a rather overwhelmed suburban dad is getting well-deserved awards buzz.

The Descendants is best described as a “slice-of-life” film (which usually make you appreciate that it’s not your life being sliced)–it might not be the most fun thing in theaters right now, but if you’re into Movies for Grown-ups, it’s one worth seeing.

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