The Descendants

Year: 2011
Production Co: Ad Hominem
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Director: Alexander Payne
Producer: Alexander Payne
Writer: Alexander Payne/Nat Foxon/Jim Rash
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer

I wasn't at all impressed by Sideways or I Heart Huckabees, but Alexander Payne's had some great films and one of his hallmarks is in making superhuman movie stars very human. For the first time ever in About Schmidt, we saw Jack Nicholson – an old man by any measure – playing a real old man instead of the evilly-grinning sex fiend he usually plays, complete with an old lady for a wife and an uncertainty of footing we seldom see in characters he plays.

Likewise George Clooney – a movie star who could probably take any woman in the world to bed if he fancied – was completely believable as a husband and father completely lost and out of his depth when it comes to family matters.

Matt (Clooney), the heir and executor to a vast family fortune, has been emotionally distant from his wife and felt disconnected from his kids for ages when his wife hits her head in a boating accident and lapses into a coma.

While he rallies his daughters – tearaway Alexandra (Woodley) and precocious but scared Scottie (Miller) – around him to support them, two bombshells land. First, the doctors tell Matt his wife won't wake up and he's better off turning the life support off mercifully. Second, Alexandra unwittingly explains the rift that's grown between her and her mother to reveal she's been cheating on Matt with a local real estate agent.

What should have been a time of healing becomes a family exercise in stalking and trying to sting their wife and mother's former lover (Lillard, whom I didn't even recognise) which brings the girls and their father closer together than they could have realised.

It's bittersweet, has enough tears and laughs to remind you of real life and the acting kudos from Clooney and Woodley are well deserved. Rather than just plonk it down in a pretty area for set dressing, the heart and soul of Hawaii infuses the story to a refreshing degree.

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