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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Descendants | George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Judy Greer, Robert Forster | Review

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The Descendants

Alexander Payne, the writer/director who won an Oscar for his screenplay of 2004's 'Sideways', delivers another satisfying gem that is one of the years best films.

Co-written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants is set in Hawaii and stars George Clooney as a man with a lot on his plate who is suddenly forced to re-examine his life.

Matt King (Clooney), an attorney specializing in real estate, descends from a long line of native Hawaiians that go back multiple generations. His family still owns 25,000 acres of beautiful virgin land on Kauai that he and his numerous cousins are looking to sell, which would make them all very rich or he can hold onto it and stand with those who would hate to see the gorgeous terrain, a piece of paradise, turned into a resort and condos. Matt is the sole trustee which ultimately means his decision to sell to a big land developer is what could make or break the deal.

In the middle of this comes a more serious family crisis. Matt's thrill seeking wife Liz (Patricia Hastie) is in a coma and on life support after a tragic boating accident. All Matts wants is for his wife to recover and make things right so they can get close like in their early days. Unfortunately, that is not in the cards, and he must break the bad news of their mother's impending death to his two young daughters, 10 year old Scottie (Amara Miller) who has been acting out her despair, and 17 year old rebellious, foul mouthed, teenager Alex (a terrific Shailene Woodley, "The Secret Life of the American Teenager"), neither of which show any respect to his parental authority. Being the breadwinner was one thing. Now having to take control and find a way to connect with girls, especially Alex who was sent off to an expensive boarding school, is new terrain for the former distant, workaholic dad.

When Alex reveals a secret in an angry, frustrated outburst that her mother was having an affair with a realtor (Matthew Lillard) and was possibly going to leave him, Matt, along with Alex as help, embark on a bonding mission to find the guy, which results in far reaching ramifications he never expected.

The Descendants is a beautifully written and well acted comedy drama that successfully manages to be heartbreaking, funny, thoughtful, touching and deeply affecting. Clooney drops his macho, movie star image offering up a stellar, nuanced performance filled with complex emotions that should nab him an Oscar nomination. Making an impressive mark in smaller supporting roles are Nick Krause as Alex's stoner boyfriend Sid who turns out to be not as clueless as we thought; Robert Forster as Matt's father in law who blames Matt for neglecting his daughter; Judy Geer as the wife of Liz's lover; and a long haired Beau Bridges as Hugh, Matt's most vocal cousin.

The back drop of the exotic, beautiful Hawaiian Islands, its vistas and local color is captured like a series of picture postcards. But life is never so idyllic and picture perfect, and Payne goes on to prove it doesn't matter where you live, noone is immune to life's problems and challenges. Payne, a master of delivering tender and worthwhile stories about flawed men in mid life crisis once again draws you into a storyline with situations and characters that are human and believable and interact with genuine dialogue.

With that kind of honest and good filmmaking, it is easy for audiences to relate.

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