Written by / 11/25/2011 / No comments / , , , ,

THE DESCENDANTS

title: THE DESCENDANTS
year: 2011
cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Robert Forster, Beau Bridges
rating: ****

The first five minutes, through narration, sets up the main character Matt King as a person anyone can relate with. Of course he’s not: being the heir of an abundance of land in Hawaii dating back to the early settlers. But he’s a simple, honest man with a lot going on: including an upcoming sale that would make good for himself and his unlucky cousins. But this is just the core of a film that, on the surface, is not so complicated as King’s wife, in a coma after a boating accident, has left him with the sole responsibility of his two daughters, both hard pressed to shun their busy, and thus neglectful, dad. George Clooney, wearing the put-upon haggardness of a man who, despite having everything, feels his life has little value, gives one of his best performances – not only when he tears up or shows emotion, but when he holds back. Shailene Woodley as the rebellious oldest daughter Alexandra keeps him on his toes: especially after dropping the bombshell that her mom/his wife had cheated before the accident. So Matt, the kids, and Alexandra’s slacker boyfriend go in search of a mysterious real estate agent i.e. the guy who cheated with mom. And here’s where the plot thickens and the audience has something to anticipate other than an inevitable death or the closing of a land deal. Using addictive elements of melodramas and soap operas while keeping an underlying dry wit throughout, it's a story that aims for sheer realism with terrific results, and best yet, gorgeous shots of Hawaii that, like the California Wine Country in director Alexander Payne's SIDEWAYS and middle America in ABOUT SCHMIDT, is a character in itself. And veteran actors Robert Forster, as King’s curmudgeon step-dad, and Beau Bridges as a seemingly friendly cousin, add to ensemble cast that’s so down to earth, you’ll forget they're in a movie.
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