Quick, reel off as many films set in Hawaii as you can sans Pearl Harbor
. If you said Jurassic Park
, you just proved your cinephile status, congrats. It's time to welcome the finest film set in the 50th state to the club: Alexander Payne's The Descendants
, a thoroughly rewarding assembled-for-adults dramedy that benefits immensely from both its island locale and one of George Clooney's finest performances.
Clooney plays Matt King, a lawyer and father of two daughters. His world turned inside-out after a boating accident leaves his wife clinging to some semblance of life. The self-proclaimed "backup parent" now in charge of keeping his daughters in line while he deals with not just that but the revelation that his wife was cheating on him with a mystery man.
The twists and turns ensue with his eldest rebel of a daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley in an Oscar-nom turn) serving as his sidekick trying to track down the guy who has made Clooney's pain that much more complicated.
Adding to the maelstrom, Clooney is in charge of his family's trust, on the cusp of selling a load of pristine Hawaiian land for hundreds of millions of dollars. The gift courtesy of his distant relatives, hence the film's title.
The dichotomy between comedy and tragedy on display is a difficult task to pull off for any director, but Payne (Sideways) handles it with great dexterity, delicately deliquescing the two with a satisfying finish.
Clooney is completely in control of his character, holding the emotional cards needed to pull off such a complex role with the flair that only he can. The conflict between anger and despair is unceasingly visible in his eyes. Clooney nails it.
There are precious few movie stars these days and Clooney is firmly in that category. The intelligently quirky Descendants is a showcase for one of his most gratifying roles. A role that could score him a golden bald dude come Oscar night.