Sunday, November 27, 2011

Movie review: The Descendants

The Descendants, starring George Clooney (the man is nigh on ubiquitous at the cinema these days), opened this weekend to big box office success.  Indeed, the viewing I attended Saturday afternoon at the Fox Tower was full up --not an empty seat in the house.  Credit the marketing folks and Clooney's star power, I suppose.

The Descendants is the story of Matt King (Clooney), a successful Honolulu lawyer.  Matt's wife, Alexandra, is the victim of a recent boating accident that has left her in a coma and Matt in a predicament as he tries to deal with her condition and with their two daughters, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) and Scottie (Amara Miller).  Elizabeth is a rebellious teenager and Scottie is a tender-aged tween.  Matt is simultaneously negotiating a rich land deal that is drawing public attention (and most of it negative).  When he gathers the family, he learns through Elizabeth that his comatose wife was having an affair.

The film has some poignant moments.  'Twould be a hard-hearted soul indeed who could sit through a viewing and not dab at his eyes a few times.  Clooney plays his part humanely and honestly.  And his supporting cast does fine.  I especially enjoyed Robert Forster as Matt's curmudgeonly father-in-law, and Nick Krause as the meat-headed but loveable Sid.

But this flick is all Clooney.  Not complaining, you understand.  I'm a George Clooney fan.

But in the final assessment, despite the sensitive, understated performances, the movie lacks a point.

The film's director, Alexander Payne, seems to have a habit of making films that depict authentically American lives. Authentically American, and frankly, just as pointless.  His earlier efforts, Sideways and About Schmidt, also feature everyday protagonists adjusting to cataclysmic changes in their lives.  And, just as with those two flicks, in the end, you feel as if you've just spent two hours watching an elaborate character sketch.

The Descendants has no great revelations nor any particular wisdom to impart.  It's a film about a middle-aged guy in Hawaii, fumbling through life just like all the rest of us.

This flick is a fine diversion for a rainy afternoon, but don't expect too much.  Payne doesn't seem to aim very high.

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