In spite of the soothing sound of Hawaiian serenades threatening to send most moviegoers int a slumber, filmmaker Alexander Payne’s latest dramedy “The Descendants” is a poignant portrayal of the pain that is possible even in paradise.
That is to say that the new motion picture, while easing our emotions with a few light laughs, tackles the topics of death and forgiveness in an exceptionally honest way. Unfortunately, a real estate subplot that Payne probably hoped would help his story speak to people on a spiritual level instead inhibits the movie’s intimacy thereby reducing its resonance, if only slightly.
George Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiin land baron, indifferent husband and father of two girls (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller) who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife Elizabeth suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki, leaving her confined to a hospital bed on life support.
The event leads to the discover that Elizabeth had been having an affair with a young real estate broker named Brain Speer (Matthew Lillard) before her misfortune. While wrestling with the decision to sell his family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries, Matt takes his his daughters on a trip from Oahu to Kauai to confront Brian.
Nick Krause comes along for the ride as Sid, the boyfriend of Woodley’s character, to add some much-needed comic relief to the otherwise depressing chain of events. Granted, as with his previous efforts such as “About Schmidt” and “Sideways,” Payne never takes life too seriously, but it is safe to say that nobody will walk away from “The Descendants” feeling uplifted.
Then again, that is not really the point here. Payne essentially paints a remarkably realistic picture with “The Descendants.” Yet it is one that is remarkably rich, as well, with plenty of authentic emotions by which the audience can associate. Needless to say, Clooney has a challenge before him with this character, who is wrought with all kinds of troubles. Fortunately, he is such a talented actor that he not only succeeds but excels.
The aforementioned subplot involving the land handed down to Clooney’s character’s family gets in the way of the story’s stronger elements but it is obvious what Payne is attempting to do with it – perhaps too obvious. Moreover, I would be lying if I said that I did not nearly overdose on Hawaiian music. However, “The Descendants” remains as beautiful as it is genuine.
“The Descendants” (R – 115 minutes) is now playing exclusively at Harkins Camelview 5. Visit FirstLook.com for specific showtimes.