The Descendants (15)



Comedy (2011)
114mins US

Starring: Robert Forster, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Michael Ontkean, Shailene Woodley, George Clooney, Matthew Lillard, Amara Miller, Nick Krause
Director: Alexander Payne
Writer(s): Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon
Listings: London | Rest of UK and Ireland

Matthew King descends from Hawaiian royalty and his clan owns a huge swathe of land on Kauai. Life is no paradise. His adrenaline-junkie wife Liz is lying in a vegetative state after a water-skiing accident. Doctors tell him there is no hope of recovery and they must turn off the life-support machines once everyone has said their goodbyes. Weighed down with this sad news, Matthew gathers together his precocious 10-year-old daughter Scottie and his rebellious 17-year-old daughter Alex.

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LondonNet Film Review
The Descendants

Good things come to those who wait and it's been an agonising seven years since writer-director Alexander Payne ventured to the sun-dappled vineyards of the quirky Oscar-winning comedy Sideways...

The Descendants. 20th Century FoxHe has directed a couple of short films and a TV pilot in the interim but Payne's distinctive voice has been silent for too long. Thankfully, the acclaimed debut novel of Kaui Hart Hemmings has wooed the film-maker back into the director's chair, working from a beautifully crafted script by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Set against the lush backdrop of the Hawaiian islands, The Descendants is a heartbreaking portrait of a family in crisis. The film provides George Clooney with the role of his career and the handsome star elegantly navigates choppy emotional waters as a father who must turn off his wife's life support machine while dealing with the grief of his two children. The scene in which his character prepares to give the final order to doctors, kissing his beloved on the forehead and whispering, "Goodbye my love, my pain", as a single tear rolls down his cheek, is sublime. An Oscar next month would be a fitting reward.

Matthew King (Clooney) stares forlornly at his adrenaline-junkie wife Liz (Patricia Hastie) as she lies in a vegetative state after a water-skiing accident. Doctors tell him there is no hope of recovery and everyone should say their farewells. With a heavy heart, Matthew bravely gathers together his 10-year-old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious 17-year-old daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley). The older child stopped talking to her mother shortly before the accident and it transpires that Alex discovered Liz was having an affair with real estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Matthew is devastated but eventually decides to take a two-day vacation to find Brian and inform his rival of Liz's injury. "Everyone who loves Elizabeth deserves a chance to say goodbye," Matthew tells an incredulous Alex.

The Descendants. 20th Century FoxThe Descendants is drolly narrated by Matthew, who mocks the beauty of the Hawaiian landscape and shares the secrets to perfect parenting ("I agree with my father. You give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing.") Characters are delicately sketched and there are lovely scenes between Clooney, Woodley and youngster Miller as they try to make sense of the hand that fate has cruelly dealt them. Comic relief comes in part from Nick Krause as Alex's slacker pal Sid, who joins the Kings on their painful odyssey. However, even he tugs the heartstrings in a remarkable, early morning heart-to-heart with Matthew that reveals the anguish behind his clown's goofy smile. Belly laughs are balanced with tragedy and despair and Payne doesn't strike a single false emotional note, although he does allow sentimentality to creep in for the sombre final five minutes.

- Sam Cannon


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