The Descendants

24 Mar

Director: Alexander Payne

Writers: Alexander Payne (screenplay), Nat Faxon (screenplay), and 2 more credits

Stars: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 115 minutes



Dark comedies about awkward American middle-aged men assessing their lives are essentially what writer director Alexander Payne does. He started with Election (fantastic) in 1999, followed that with About Schmidt (good) in 2002, and then captured a bigger audience and the odd award with Sideways (excellent) in 2004. Payne cast Matthew Broderick, Jack Nicholson and Paul Giamatti as the leads in those films and this time around it is George Clooney that finds himself questioning his purpose and position in a messy modern life.

Clooney plays Matt King, a grey haired Hawaiian businessman with a lousy taste in shirts. He is having a particularly tough time of it as his wife is in hospital in a coma, he has to try to parent his two wayward daughters, and he is in the middle of a large family land deal with many complications. In addition he is estranged from his own family. Matt is bemused by his kids with whom he rarely talks and learns that his sick wife was having an affair before her accident. All is not paradise in Hawaii which is a theme that Clooney / Payne return to frequently.

This movie, adapted from a novel, is called The Descendants as it deals with family growing pains – via the father and daughter relationships and via the complex family land deal. It is a fairly interesting set-up, but it does not dig very deep. The relationships are rather one-dimensional and the slow pace and lack of spark, funny or otherwise, allowed my attention to drift. I actually found it boring. Clooney is OK in his role, but the character of Matt King has few redeeming qualities. Of those 4 ‘middle-aged male crises’ films from Alexander Payne, this is definitely the weakest.

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