Release Date: Nov. 23, 2011
Running Time: 110 minutes
Alexander Payne doesn’t like to rush himself. He averages just two films a decade, but when you’re responsible for Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt and Sideways, quality is always going to triumph over quantity. The Descendants, an amusing and thoughtful adaptation of a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, marks Payne’s first film in seven years—and it is definitely worth the wait. It is a vintage dramedy from Payne about a middle-age man forced to address his strained relationship with his family and reconsider his priorities and principles. George Clooney stars as Matt King, the sole trustee of beautiful, unspoiled ancestral land on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. Under a new Hawaiian law, Matt and his family must sell the land. The process of choosing a buyer, though, takes a backseat when Matt’s wife is badly injured in a boating accident. Just as Matt’s advised that there is no hope for his comatose wife, and that she must be taken off life support, his 17-year-old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley ) drops a bombshell: Matt’s wife was having an affair at the time of the accident. The Descendants then focuses on the efforts by Matt, with Alex’s help, to understand what drove his wife into another man’s arms as they come to grips with her impending death. Making matters worse, Matt has no idea how to break the news to his 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) about her mother’s condition. Like fine wine, Clooney gets better with age, and the fear, anger and confusion he lends Matt fuels The Descendants’ vigorous and relatable dissection of the ties that bind. The star of the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, Woodley effortlessly keeps up with Clooney as she creates a portrait of a troubled young woman whose directness and outer strength conceals the pain and suffering she feels inside. Both Clooney and Woodley, though, are constantly upstaged by Austin native Nick Krause as Sid, Alex’s platonic friend Sid. This goofy beach bum isn’t just comic relief, though: Krause ensures Sid possesses enough depth and insight to make him this generation’s Jeff Spicoli. Payne brings gentle humor to The Descendants as he examines what defines, unites and tears apart the modern family. When The Descendants takes a serious turn, though, Payne allows the inherent drama of the situation to play out without succumbing to melodrama or unnecessary sentimentality. Beautifully shot as one would expect from a film set in Hawaii, The Descendants may be set in paradise, as Matt declares as the start of the film, but it’s a heartfelt character study that believes peace and tranquility can only be found within.
Aired: Nov. 24, 2011
Web site: http://www.foxsearchlight.com/thedescendants/