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The Descendants
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Reviewed on 2011-11-23
Received[4]  out of 4 stars
GenreComedy / Drama
Filmmaker Alexander Payne, who was born and lives in Omaha, Nebraska, has always been associated with quality films including "About Schmidt," "Sideways" and "Election." His winning streak of bringing excellence to the screen continues with this engrossing dysfunctional family drama that hits all the emotional buttons. It is based on the sensitively-crafted debut novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

Set against the lush, panoramic backdrop of the Hawaiian Islands, Matthew King (George Clooney), a real estate lawyer, has spent the last 23 days in the hospital room of his comatose wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie). His thrill-seeking, high-maintenance wife was launched from a powerboat during a race. Matt has always been the back-up parent to his two daughters, Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller).

Matt is also the trustee of a family trust containing 25,000 pristine acres of land on Kauai. The trust must be dissolved in seven years to avoid violating the rule against perpetuities. There is pressure to sell the land and several prospective buyers have submitted bids.

Matt and his cousins are the beneficiary descendants referred to in the title. Their missionary ancestors were financially and culturally progressive-one haole banker even married a Hawaiian royal princess. The land has been in the family for 150 years.

The attending physician informs Matt that nothing more can be done for Liz. She signed a living will requesting that she be taken off of life support. It is only a question of when to pull the plug on the ventilator.

Facing this devastating crisis, Matt decides to let family and friends know about Liz's condition so that they can say final goodbyes.

10-year-old Scottie (named after Liz's father Scott) wants to be a photographer. She is at a difficult age with a desperate need for attention. Rebellious older sister Alex, 17, is a recovering drug-addict sent away to an expensive boarding school on the big island.

Matt and Alex board a plane in Honolulu and bring Alex home from school.

Matt explains to Scottie and Alex that "we need to go through this thing together."

Alex has been on the outs with her mom after having a heated argument before leaving for school. She tells Matt that Liz has been cheating on him. She caught her mother with another guy. Matt was always too busy practicing law to even suspect that Liz was having an affair.

Matt decides that everyone who loved Liz deserves a chance to say goodbye. He takes the girls on a road trip to locate Liz's lover. He turns out to be a realtor named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Alex insists that her childhood friend Sid (Nick Krause), who recently lost his father in a drunk driving accident, accompany them.

This memorable journey is filled with heartfelt quality family moments that lead to painful revelations and unforeseen humor and growth.

The movie makes viewers think about all the joy and sadness in their own lives. This well-executed film proceeds at a relaxed pace and the adapted screenplay is faithful to the source material.

This unforgettable movie succeeds by making audiences feel like a part of the family.

It ranks right up there with "The Help" for me as the best picture of 2011.

Clooney, showing a lot of grey in his hair, does double duty serving as our aloha narrator from what many consider paradise and the lead male actor. Clooney knocks it out of the park with a marvelous performance that makes him the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Actor. His final tearful goodbye should resonate with voters and seal the deal.

Newcomer Woodley makes a strong bid for a supporting actress nomination. Her star in Hollywood should be ascending after this eye-opening debut.

The Screen Actors Guild will honor this film with a nomination for Best Ensemble Cast.

The supporting players include Robert Forster (as Liz's surly father), Barbara L. Southern (as Liz's mother suffering from Alzheimer's), Beau Bridges (as Cousin Hugh) and Judy Greer (as Brian's wife Julie). They are all given chances to shine by Payne's generous direction and make the most of their limited screen time.

The island-themed musical score and the colorful tropical shirts worn by Clooney add to the enjoyment of this sparkling gem that treads a fine line between comedy and tragedy.

You will want to book your next pleasure trip to Hawaii after sitting through this satisfying cinematic experience and be sure to take along Hemmings' novel to read on the beach.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"


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