Review: 'The Descendants'

George Clooney in 'The Descendants' (Fox Searchlight)
George Clooney in 'The Descendants' (Fox Searchlight)

Suffused with sadness and an overwhelming sense of melancholy, The Descendants explores yet another corner of Alexander Payne’s United States. It’s a cinematic country notable for the beauty of its landscapes and the exquisite anguish of its inhabitants.

Narrated by and starring Matt King (George Clooney), the story explores the strangely related dyanamics of personal relationships and property ownership. Matt can trace his ancestry in Hawaii back several generations, to the marriage of a native islander to a white missionary in the late 19th Century. Matt, an attorney specializing in real estate transactions, has become the sole trustee of the family trust, which controls ownership of the last great, undeveloped property on the Islands, 25,000 pristine acres on Kaui. By government decree, the trust will be dissolved in seven years, so developers are salivating at the prospects. The vast majority of Matt’s many, many cousins are eager to sell, and it is left to Matt only to sign over the property; he has already announced that he will accede to the wishes of the majority at an upcoming family vote.

Coincidentally, Matt’s beloved wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) has fallen into a coma after a boating accident, and just as he’s absorbing that news, he is informed that she will not wake up from the coma. Because she executed a legal document expressing her choice not to be kept alive by artificial means, life support will very soon be discontinued. So in the same time frame in which Matt must make a major financial decision with far-reaching implications, he must also deal with the death of his beloved, longtime companion, and all that that involves, especially as regards their two daughters.

Both girls are troubled to different degrees: Scottie (Amara Miller), 10, is a bully, while 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley) has been sent away to an expensive private school on another island to sort out her problems, which include drug addiction. Matt brings Alex home so she can help him as he breaks the news about Elizabeth to their extended family, most notably Elizabeth’s acid-tongued father Scott (Robert Forster) and dementia-affected Tutu (Barbara L. Southern).

Complicating matters still further is the gradual revelation that all was not well between Matt and Elizabeth, and that she harbored a big secret that affects their entire relationship.

— From my review at Twitch.

‘The Descendants’ opens today at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano.

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