The Descendants

Clooney shines Alexander Payne's latest slanted dramedy

click to enlarge George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller in 'The Descendants'
George Clooney, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller in 'The Descendants'

Matt King (George Clooney) comes from a distinct lineage. In terms of his own narrative, that of the new Alexander Payne film The Descendants, he is a modern-day land baron, the trustee of a family that owns the last and largest untapped acreage in Hawaii. But King is a simple man with a wife (Patricia Hastie) in a coma and two daughters, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller), who knows that paradise is a dream world for fools. So King is a descendant here of past good fortune and recent infidelity, but he stands in a longer, richer line — that of Payne’s scathing dramedies.

[Read Jason Gargano's interview with Woodley here.]

Like Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) in Election, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) in About Schmidt and Miles (Paul Giamatti) in Sideways, King finds himself beset by forces beyond his control and/or understanding. Nothing so epic as to be deemed biblical in nature; just the inevitable struggles of life. But The Descendants benefits from time, coming seven years after Sideways, a period during which Payne also grappled with his own set of challenging circumstances (divorce, health issues, etc.) and came out the other side a different man, one more aware of his intrinsic humanity, which is what makes King a great (near perfect) addition to the Payne oeuvre. He is more in touch with his humanity, less lost in the drama, even when it dives into absurdity.

King is never just a character; he is a man, one who learns how to survive, and the true lion’s share of the credit belongs to Clooney because he — the movie star, the director, the renaissance man — disappears into the recesses of the past, leaving only King and his kin to walk boldly into their future. Grade: A


Opens Nov. 23. Check out theaters and show times, see the trailer and get theater details here.

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