Alexander Payne’s The Descendants is destined to be one of the season’s bigger hits. It has a bankable star, a name director, mostly terrific reviews, and, in fact, it is a very good movie. Being that it’s from Payne, moviegoers who think in terms of filmmakers have some idea of the kind of film it is: unhurried, a little off-center, humanistic, focused on deeply-flawed characters whose appeal may not be immediately apparent. But The Descendants is a little different in that it’s not as bleak or specialized as many of his films. However, it’s typical Payne in that it’s finally all about with who, what, and where you are. George Clooney (at his best) plays Matt King, a Hawaiian real estate lawyer descended from a long line of Hawaiians with a lineage that includes Hawaiian royalty. It’s through this lineage that he has ended up as trustee of an extremely valuable tract of picture-postcard-unspoiled beachfront land on Kauai. Since Matt has always lived off his earnings and not on his trust fund, he has no real need or desire to sell the land. His rather motley assortment of layabout relatives have other ideas. That’s almost a side issue, however, since the film is driven by the fact that Matt’s wife is in an irreversible coma from a boating accident, which in itself is complicated by Matt’s older daughter (Shailene Woodley) revealing that the cause of her estrangement from her mother is rooted in the fact that mom was cheating on Matt. This sends the story in another direction that veers effortlessly between drama and farce with surprising complications of both plot and character. Definitely one to see.
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash
Producer: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor
Cast: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster, Shailene Woodley, Mary Birdsong, Nick Krause and Amara