The Descendants

The Descendants

Run time 115 minutes.
Not for children.

George Clooney and Shailene Woodley in “The Descendants.”

One would not think that a movie about a family in which the mother, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), is in what appears to be a terminal coma; the father, Matt King (George Clooney), is forced to take over the care of the two daughters; and the daughters are difficult — to say the least — would be one of the truly funny pictures of the year. But thanks to director Alexander Payne’s acute sense of pace and timing, and a terrific script (Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash, from a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings), that’s exactly what this is.

It’s a movie I wasn’t particularly excited to see, but I was overwhelmed by how good it is. While Clooney gives the best performance of his career as the paterfamilias, and while Shailene Woodley contributes an award-worthy performance as his 17-year old daughter, Alex, the one who made the film as funny as it is (in parts; there are also parts that are touching), is Nick Krause, who plays Sid, Alex’s goofy boyfriend. Several times he had me laughing out loud uncontrollably. If anybody gets an Oscar® out of this film, it should be Krause.

As implied, Clooney gives a wonderful performance as the harried father who has a lot on his plate. This isn’t the egotistical Clooney who thinks he’s cool and clever and who inundates his films with one ECU after another. Here he’s just a normal (albeit rich) guy who has a lot of problems and is doing his best to deal with them. In an award-quality performance, some of the funniest scenes in the film are just the looks he gives the various people with whom he comes in contact.

The other three members of the cast who gave exceptional performances were Robert Forster, who plays Elizabeth’s father, Scott Thorson; Amara Miller, who plays Matt’s younger daughter, Scottie; and Hastie, who is a very convincing coma victim, even though she never says a word.

The only thing that disappointed me about the film was the cinematography (Phedon Papamichael). The entire film is set in Hawaii. Anybody who watches Hawaii Five-0 on TV is aware of the gorgeous prospects available in Hawaii because each segment of that show starts with an aerial shot of Hawaii in eye-popping color. Papamichael eschews allowing the scenery to occupy any part of the enjoyment of the film, greying the color and robbing Hawaii of its stunning color. However, I’m told that Hawaii is often grey, so he apparently chose to show it as it is. But this is a movie. I want to see the dream.

But just because it’s not a travelogue for Hawaii is certainly not a reason not to go see this interesting, highly entertaining film.

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