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14.1.12

For Your Consideration: 'The Descendants'

Life can sweep you along in its wake, as it does to Matt King, the wealthy land owner portrayed by George Clooney in The Descendants, a new film directed by Alexander Payne (Election, Sideways, About Schmidt). His family's trust holds the largest swath of undeveloped land in Hawaii, a wedding gift received by their ancestor, daughter of the island's last king. Adapted into a screenplay by Payne (assisted by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash) from the break-out novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings (who has a cameo in the film as Clooney's character's secretary), this calmly paced film is a visually gorgeous evocation of modern Hawaii (cinematography by Phedon Papamichael) accompanied by an infectious soundtrack of all Hawaiian music (supervised by Dondi Bastone and edited by Richard Ford). One is content to bob along in the tide of this gentle film, exploring the beauty and paradoxes of Hawaii as King peels away the onion-like layers of his life, doing away with the assumptions he had been making about it that are no longer possible.

available at Amazon
The Descendants
(soundtrack)
(released on November 21, 2011)
King's wife, Elizabeth, is in a coma after a boating accident (Patricia Hastie, seen only as an unconscious patient in the hospital), and he finds himself forced to reconnect with his teenage daughters while sorting out an uncertain future. The younger Scottie (a sweet, tough Amara Miller) goes with King to fetch the older daughter, Alex (gorgeous, sharp-tongued Shailene Woodley), from her boarding school. King's ersatz family unit is rounded out by Alexandra's school friend, the dopey but earnest Sid (Nick Krause, who has a grin that can only be described as shit-eating). Clooney gives a poised, easy-going performance, rock-solid at the center of this group that slowly learns how to relate to one another. For someone in control of so much money, King is a fairly down-to-earth person, but his sense of who he is and what he has to do, regarding the sale of the family's land, is shaken by the discovery that his wife was having an affair before her accident.

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Putting off the decision about the sale of the land -- try to preserve it? sell to a local developer? or take the big money from an off-island investor? -- King sets off with his ragtag band to find his wife's paramour. The screenplay strikes the ideal balance between humor, whimsy, and endearing emotion. It is neither a farce nor a tearjerker, just as likely to make you laugh in a solemn moment as find the serious side of the little details of life. Clooney and Co. float through a sea of supporting characters, with fine performances all along, especially Judy Greer as an innocent caught in the crossfire, Robert Forster as a straight-shooting grandfather, and Beau Bridges as the long-haired older Cousin Hugh, the paterfamilias of the King clan. It deserves a nomination for best picture of the year.

This film is currently showing at many theaters in the Washington area.

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