Review of The Descendants. George Clooney shines in standout family dramedy The Descendants.
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There are few pairings more exciting than filmmaker Alexander Payne and celebrity leading man George Clooney.
Clooney and Payne are a dream team for serious movie buffs who remain big fans of Payne's early, edgy films Election (1999) and Citizen Ruth (1996) and focus on Clooney as the rare Hollywood superstar who frequently uses his clout to make interesting movies.
Granted, many Hollywood matches disappoint, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clint Eastwood in J. Edgar for example, but Payne and Clooney come together beautifully and bring out the best in each other.
Of the two Clooney movies out this fall, his political campaign drama The Ides of March and The Descendants, Clooney gives one of the best performances of his career in The Descendants.
Matt King (George Clooney) comes from Hawaiian royalty and a long line of American missionaries and businessmen. As a result of previous generations of Kings, he and his relatives currently own the last plot of undeveloped land on the Hawaiian Islands.
As Matt prepares for a meeting with his relatives to decide what to do with the land, his wife Joanie lies in a coma after experiencing a boating accident. Matt becomes a solo parent to his young daughters Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). He also sets out to find the man Joanie was sleeping with prior to her life-threatening accident.
Working alongside co-writers Nat Faxon and Jim Rash in adapting Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel, Payne gives Clooney a role refreshingly grounded, believably complex, equally funny and unlovable.
Clooney, deservedly so, gets all the attention in The Descendants since the story revolves around his ping-pong emotions of guilt and rage. Clooney's also in every scene and keeps the movie humming at a brisk clip.
Payne surrounds Clooney with amazing talent and a top-notch crew that captures all the beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.
Amara Miller delivers good-natured sass as the younger of Matt's two girls.
Shailene Woodley, who worked on the ABC Family series The Secret Life of the American Teenager, shines brightly as the rebellious teen Alex who's mad at her mother for being in a coma and at her father for being an absentee parent for so long.
Woodley is equal to the performance of her famous co-star and holds her own in every scene.
In a key, supporting role, Judy Greer is pitch perfect as the friendly wife unaware of her husband's (Matthew Lillard) affair with Joanie.
Robert Forster crackles as Matt's no-nonsense father-in-law and Nick Krause is funny as Alex's slackerish boyfriend Sid.
Together, Clooney and his young female co-stars Woodley and Miller make The Descendants one of the year's best movies.
Few American filmmakers claim a body of work as impressive as Payne's: Citizen Ruth (96), Election (99), About Schmidt (02) and his huge hit Sideways (04).
It's been seven years since Sideways and five years since Payne's beautiful segment of the omnibus drama Paris, Je T'aime starring Margo Martindale in a tale of loneliness in Paris but at least he returns in glorious fashion.
Payne tells stories filled with damaged folks and assorted sad sacks and sometimes the movies become too cynical for their own good.
At times when Payne may make The Descendants too dark for its own good, Clooney brings his trademark charisma and likeable spirit to the movie and helps take the sting off the unsentimental storytelling.
Clooney brings a welcome sense of comfort to The Descendants via his charm and good humor and makes one believe that despite all the family drama, the loss of a parent and spouse and the sting of infidelity, things will turn out just fine.
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Robert Forster
Screenwriter: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Director: George Clooney
Cinematographer: Phedan Papamichael
Editor: Kevin Tent
Producers: Ad Hominem Enterprises
Running Time: 115 minutes
Release Date: November 16, 2012 in select theaters; expands nationwide throughout November