The Descendants

Directed By: Alexander Payne

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer, and Beau Bridges

George Clooney has been a busy man this year. He's directed and starred in The Ides of March.  Now he's starring in Alexander Payne's The Descendants.  In both films, he's been at his absolute best.  On the other hand, Alexander Payne, who's known for his films About Schmidt and Sideways, has been just the opposite.  We haven't seen him behind the camera in seven years.  In The Descendants, he doesn't let moviegoers down.  His latest movie is a moving juxtaposition of Hawaii's beauty and grace with the pains and stresses of everyday life.

Matt King (George Clooney) is an attorney who lives in Hawaii.   His wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) had a boating accident and is currently in a coma on life support.  When he learns that his wife is not going to get any better and that she will soon be taken off life support, he decides to bring his daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller) home so that they can deal with this family crisis in peace.  However, things are anything but peaceful when his older daughter Alexandra reveals that his dying wife was cheating on him.  He naturally begins investigating the matter to find out more about the other man so that he can put his wife to rest with all questions answered.

Matt is also the trustee over a large portion of native Hawaiian territory owned by his family for generations, and his family wants to sell that Hawaiian territory despite everything else that's going on in his own life at the moment.  As he struggles to hold his family together and deal with his ongoing personal crisis, he finds that the two big things going in his life are connected in a way he never quite expected.

Clooney's opening lines in the film are about the native people of Hawaii, a place others deem to be a vacation paradise.  They have problems and issues like anybody else in the world.  Their pains and ailments are just as insufferable as ours.  Their personal struggles are just as hard as ours.  This is a theme that Alexander Payne delves into throughout The Descendants. 

Payne leverages the beauty of Hawaii and its gorgeous landscape to create an aesthetically appealing background with the greenest grass and the bluest water.  The score of the film also has a lot of peaceful, soothing music with ukuleles.  If that was the only part of the film, I would think I was watching somebody's beautiful vacation on a travel channel.  However, Elizabeth is dying, and she's left a mess that's unsettling anyone near and dear to her, especially her husband.  Matt is dealing with her looming death, grieving friends and family members, the struggle of finding out his wife was unfaithful to him, and the stresses of selling millions of dollars worth of native Hawaiian territory.  Despite the natural beauty all around, Payne shows us the true nature of all the trials in Matt's life at that moment.

To depict all of Matt's struggles, Payne needed an extremely talented actor, and he found it in George Clooney.  The number of emotions felt by Clooney's Matt must be astounding.  From the rage from learning of his wife's extramarital affair to the grief from dealing with the looming death of his soul mate, Clooney had to display his conflicted character's wide range of emotions with subtlety and skill.  His overall performance in the film is quite impressive and adds a great deal of meaning to the juxtaposition Payne is creating between the tranquility of Hawaii and the actual chaos of Matt's life.

While The Descendants is not an uplifting film by any means, you'll certainly come out of the film feeling like you've gotten your money's worth.  With big laughs and moving filmmaking, Alexander Payne's The Descendants gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one.