Sunday, February 12, 2012


Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer, Patricia Hastie and Beau Bridges  
Director: Alexander Payne
Screenplay: Alexander Payne and Nat Fraxon & Jim Rash, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Time: 115 mins
Rating: *  *  *  1/2  (out of 4)

THE KING FAMILY: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller

PREAMBLE: This is a movie that's so full of raw emotions and great performances that it is bound to attract attention at Oscar season. My guess is that this family drama is being released in Malaysia solely because of the Oscar buzz surrounding it.

Still, for those looking for an engaging and heartwarming film, this it. Plus, it is one of the rare occasions that we see George Clooney cry!

The King family with Nick Krause (right) as Sid

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Matt King (Clooney) is a Hawaiian lawyer who's the sole trustee of a huge parcel of inherited virgin land. His numerous cousins are hoping he will sell the land to developers and make them all rich.  Matt's long work hours have meant that he has neglected his two daughters – 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller). When his wife (Patricia Hastie as Elizabeth) ends up in a coma after a boating accident, Matt is forced to come to terms with being a father despite barely knowing how to talk to his kids.

HITS & MISSES: Right from the opening sequences where Clooney's Matt separates (in a voice-over) the myth and the reality that is Hawaii, we are solidly on his side. This is especially so when we learn that his wife is warded in a coma - and he has a problem communicating with his daughters. This problem is gradually resolved, often in funny and touching ways, when Matt and the girls fly off to his ancestral island to look for someone connected with his wife's past. Given that Matt is caught between feeling angry and betrayed by Elizabeth and her friends and his need to do the right thing for his dying wife, we sympathise deeply with him.

Indeed, The Descendants is basically about doing the right thing even if it is painful. This also applies to Matt's controversial decision involving the sale of his ancestral land. Clooney puts up one of the best performances of his career - drawing us into Matt's dilemma and making us wonder what we would do if we were in his shoes.

Another notable performance comes from Woodley (the star of TV's The Secret Life of the American Teenager) giving an excellent and likable portrayal of the average American teenager forced by circumstances to grow up fast. She is undoubtedly the draw for youngsters.

We also get strong support from Robert Forster as Matt's clueless father-in-law; and from Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer as a married couple (pictured above) with a connection to Matt's wife. Beau Bridges provides a colorful turn as one of Matt's cousins.

In Sideways (2004), director Alexander Payne gave us a memorable and thought-provoking story about the wine industry of California. Here, he does the same for the debate over the culture and eco-system of one of the Hawaiian islands. Also, with the many accompanying Hawaiian songs on the soundtrack, it is easy to groove along with the plot.

THE LOWDOWN: A feel great movie for the discerning viewer. 


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