The Descendants

Director Alexander Payne ("Sideways") delivers an R-rated film about family dynamics after a water-skiing accident leaves the mother in a coma. It soon is revealed (as it is in the trailers) that she had been having an affair. Payne orchestrates a beautiful arc from rage and defiance to serenity and acceptance over the course of this 115 minute gem. Every phase of the family's emotional response to events feels natural, normal and real.

Our main character is the trustee for a massive real estate holding which, because of Hawaii's laws, must eventually be dissolved. He thinks he has found a solution, maybe not the best one, but one that will put the issue to rest.

In this very capable cast we see:
  • George Clooney ("The Ides of March") is the fifth-generation Hawaiian land baron whose wife is in the accident; this forces him to reconnect with his two daughters who are semi-strangers. When I watched Clooney clop, clop, clopping down the road in his sandals, running flatfooted like a middle-aged man in a crisis instead of like a movie star, I decided he has earned his stripes as an actor.
  • Patricia Hastie ("Princess Kaiulani") is his philandering wife, now on life support. Her living will specifies "No Life Support," so much of this film anticipates when they have to pull the plug.
  • Shailene Woodley (LOTS of TV) is their defiant eldest daughter; she knows everyone's secrets. She becomes her father's confi- dante and fellow conspirator while at the same time she naturally and believably segues into the role of big sister/mother to her younger sibling. This is a capable young actress whose best claim to fame so far is that she can cry under water!
  • Nick Krause ("ExTerminators") is a young man whose existence was kept a secret from his girlfriend's dad... for good reason! This is no intellectual giant and he tends to blurt out the truth, but as we learn more about him, his insight and his steadfast presence start to gain traction in the family.
  • Amara Miller, in her film debut, is the younger daughter, who wants to get to know her dad. She is just entering her hormonal stage and is painfully aware that she won't have a mother to help her through it. She cries, "Well what about ME?!"
  • Matthew Lillard (LOTS of TV) is the rascal who was getting it on with the philandering wife. He is a Realtor and is on the periphery of a huge deal with Clooney's land trust.
  • Judy Greer ("Love and Other Drugs") is Mrs. Rascal (see above).
  • Robert Forster ("Ghosts of Girlfriends Past") is Clooney's father-in-law who is convinced that his daughter is perfect, so Clooney is to blame. He is burdened with a wife stricken with Alzheimer's, a daughter in a coma and chronic rage.
  • Beau Bridges (LOTS of TV) is a country cousin, eager to see that lucrative land deal go through so he and the rest of the impatient relatives can split their booty.
Payne wants to show us what his cast can do...and he certainly does the job, all the while treating us to a travelogue of Hawaii. A Hawaiian sound- track accompanies us as we fly between islands, see Hawaiian musicians (they can yodel!) and admire picture-postcard scenery.

There is plenty of humor mixed in with the normal dynamics of a family in the throes of a major readjustment. You will see no nudity, no car chases, no gunfire and no blowie uppie stuff; most of the profanity comes from the girls as they test their father's authority. Everything about this film feels authentic, including the blanket-sharing final scene. You WILL like it.

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Here is a link to a preview:
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