Time Out Rio de Janeiro

The Descendants

George Clooney's understated study of a man trying to hold his family together makes this fascinating movie a winner, despite occasional hammy moments

The Descendants

Opens 27 Jan 2012

Director Alexander Payne

Cast George Cloony, Sheilene Woodley and Amara Miller

The Descendants website

The Descendants website

George Clooney’s bedraggled basset hound features have never been better exploited than in Alexander Payne’s perceptive and moving dramedy about a Hawaiian household in mourning. The Hollywood superceleb effortlessly dials down the star-power wattage as Matt King, ceaselessly apprehensive scion of an Aloha State brood that goes back generations. Matt’s now facing twin challenges: the potentially lucrative sale of a prime parcel of land and the impending death of his wife, Elizabeth (Hastie), who lies in an irreversible coma after a boating accident.

Elizabeth haunts every frame of The Descendants; Payne even begins the film with a loving, lingering close-up of her face that so precisely distils her character, it breaks your heart. In short, she’s no saint: Matt is quick to acknowledge their marriage had problems, but even he is shocked when his bellicose eldest daughter (Woodley) reveals that Mom was having an affair. So begins a leisurely, island-hopping road trip as Matt and his children spread the word about Elizabeth’s terminal condition and seek out the illicit lover. As ever, Payne – adapting a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings – walks a fine line between caricature and compassion. Only a bedside monologue by ‘other woman’ Judy Greer tips into the spiteful burlesque that marks the director at his droopy-breasted-Kathy-Bates worst. Otherwise, this is an exquisite portrait of a family navigating the wreckage imparted to them by one of their own.

Words by Keith Uhlich
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