REVIEW: 'The Descendants'

REVIEW: 'The Descendants'

REVIEW: 'The Descendants', Flicks.co.nz

4 stars

From director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election), a comedy-drama set in Hawaii starring George Clooney as an indifferent husband and father forced to reevaluate life and face some unsettling truths after his wife suffers a boating accident. Now playing nationwide, click for movie times and trailer.

It’s rare for a director to strike the right chord with every film but Alexander Payne has managed it. Moving on from his success with Sideways, Election and About Schmidt, The Descendants will leave you with the same admiration for the guy: he knows how to write about middle-aged men in a slump.

George Clooney is his new fall guy, Matt King, and the actor expertly shucks off his cocksure swagger to play a hands-off Dad confronting loss, responsibility and history, in an extraordinarily nuanced performance. And as much as Matt’s character sees his island ‘paradise’ as a myth – the idea being no-one is immune to life – the stunning backdrop of Hawaii makes for a much more eye-pleasing setting than most (mind the Hawaiian shirts).

Clooney is bouncing off his young cast members who get the pleasure of working with a script that absolutely nails teen-speak. The complexity of Matt’s predicament is handled with wit, grace and often disgrace, each of the family forced to work together and, at times, suppress their true desires in lieu of the greater good. Even the supposedly superficial characters – Alex’s stoner friend Sid and the sunny wife of Matt’s wife’s lover– emerge as three-dimensional humans trying to forge the best path through life’s rough patches.

Payne says he hates sentimentality and for the most part The Descendants’ crude-talking kids subvert any mushiness, other than a few drawn-out tear-jerker moments towards the end. But for the most part this is a rich and moving tale. An Oscar contender for sure.

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