FilmNovember 17, 2011 at 6:18 am

The Descendants Review: Payne in Paradise

This film makes us thankful to be with our own pseudo–stable families on Thanksgiving. Who knew being a Clooney could be so tumultuous?

Alexander Payne is finally (seven years finally, to be exact) at it again with The Descendants. This time around, his mastery is framed around two of the most beautiful things on earth: Hawaiian beaches and George Clooney.

Clooney plays lawyer and Hawaiian land baron Matt King, who finds himself struggling to raise two daughters and balance his own emotions after his wife, Elizabeth, is put into a coma from a boating accident. Unfortunately for Matt, the tides are not in his favor.

His youngest daughter Scottie (Miller) lashes out every chance she gets and has trouble adjusting to her new elementary school teacher. Matt’s oldest, Alex (Secret Life of The American Teenager’s Shailene Woodley), had been butting heads with her mother for years and is constantly finding trouble at her off–island boarding school. If you thought your family was dysfunctional, you may want to reconsider.

The majority of the film focuses on the motley family’s efforts to inform everyone they know, and don’t, of Elizabeth’s impending death. But friends and family quickly turns into friends, family and adulterers as the Kings discover more about the maelstrom of Elizabeth’s life outside of her home.

While the subject matter is understandably heavy, the story is littered with just as many hilarious moments as sappy ones. The result is an emotional equilibrium that should become the paragon for future films. We laughed. We cried. You get it.

The acting is a clear highlight of the film. Both Clooney and Woodley give outstanding performances that make their odd dynamic instantly relatable. As they become closer, the audience is pulled right into their bond. It would be wrong to say that the acting carries the film, but this is only because the other elements were equally strong. From the dynamic and witty screenplay to the awe–inspiring cinematography, Payne manages to pull together yet another incredible film.

Watching The Descendants, viewers are forced to question their own moral codes as they find themselves laughing at grotesque tragedy and tearing up at the happier moments, which results in a bit of discomfort.  However, after considering what has been presented, it becomes clear that this polarity is what ultimately keeps us stable.
If you won’t come for this Oscar–worthy film, at least come to see Clooney make a Hawaiian shirt look classy. You won’t regret it.

The Descendants opens tomorrow at the Ritz East.

4.5/5 Stars
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller
Rated R, 115 min.
See if you liked: Sideways (2004)

 
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