Stars: George Clooney, Shallene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard
Director: Alexander Payne
There's a scene in The Descendants that pays homage (perhaps subconsciously) to Last Tango In Paris. It's where Honolulu attorney Matt King (George Clooney) is at the hospital bedside of his wife, Elizabeth--who lies in an irreversible coma as the result of a boating accident--giving her an earful of his pent-up emotions about everything from her infidelity, to leaving him in the lurch to raise their two problematic daughters by himself. I immediately flashed back to Brando's poignant, profanity-laced barrage unleashed upon the corpse of his cheating spouse, Rosa, in that classic film.
Anyway, it's quite tempting to 'ave a go at the old bird when she can't bite you back, apparently, which is just what Elizabeth's intractable teenage daughter, Alexandra, (Shallene Woodley) does as well. Even the wife of the guy she was screwing around with gets her licks in.
Yes... it's a drama. Yes... it's a comedy. And that's called a "dramedy" where I hail from, Mister. But one with a subtle touch, like the mixture of humor and pathos in everyday life.
Speaking of subtlety, that would be Clooney's performance for about the first half of the film. UNDERSTATED, I believe is the word. I wasn't sure if Matt King was supposed to be a guy who was just out of touch with his feelings, or if Clooney was mailing it in. Fortunately, our faith in George's acting ability is restored when the plot elements in The Descendants require him to get pissed off at friends who've been holding back the truth about his wife's shenanigans--then, with his young charges in tow, island hops over to Kauai to confront the erstwhile home wrecker, real-estate agent Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard). Ostensibly, Matt just want to inform Speer about his wife's dire predicament, but we know that he wants to get in the guy's face some too.
Speer ties into the subplot, as he stands to make a killing from the sale of 25,000 acres of pristine beach front property, previously handed down to King and his clan, of which Matt happens to be the sole trustee. A tangled web we weave.
All of it leads to Matt's eventual epiphany, about taking a stand in the face of overwhelming opposition. When it's all said and done, life goes on-- and The Descendants, gingerly groping its way along the darkened hallways of life, reminds us of that better than most.
Beau Bridges shines as Matt's cousin, Hugh.
Patricia Hastie, as the comatose Elizabeth, gives a stiff performance.