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the descendants
Click for full sized poster

The Descendants

Starring George Clooney, Amara Miller, Shailene Woodley, Nick Krause
Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings
Directed by Alexander Payne

IN SHORT: Just OK. [Rated R for language including some sexual references. 115 minutes]

Matt King (George Clooney) has it made. He and his immediate extended family can trace their lineage ahe top of Hawaii's pecking order directly back to King Kamehameha I whose granddaughter found love in a different racial pool, five or six generations back. The family as a whole has inherited 25,000 acres of primo, untouched land on the island of Kau'i (sic); ocean on one side, all kinds of land types on the other. Perfefor development, which hasn't happened to the site. Ever.

The Trust that controls the land expires in "seven" years. Matt, a real estate lawyer, has been put in charge of the family's discussions about what to do with the land, considering that the State has told them in no certain terms, to get something done. Some in the family want to leave it be. Most want development - which will make all even richer than the phenomenally rich that they are already.

The film explains all the rest of the details. Matt is more concerned about holding his family -- daughters 10-years old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-years old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) together, as their mother has spent the last three weeks on life support following some kind of X-Games speed boating accident which has left wife, Elizabeth, essentially brain dead.

Scotty know mom is "sick". She's been sheltered from the truth as well as possible. Alexandra and mom were on the outs at the time of the accident. Alex is an angry kid, drinking and drugs and a forced enrollment at a tough love school designed to break her of the bad habits. It links her with an apparent stoner, Sid (Nick Krause) the "joy" of any normal dad's life. Matt pulls his girls out of school because the doctors have given notice that they have to enforce an existing living will that is in place and, parents, if you're reading with your kids at this point and they don't know what a living will is, pause and explain.

We'll wait.

By the way, we've been to Hawaii. Wish we could manage a trip back. We heard many, many New Yorkers walking out of our screening expressing a wish to visit. There are a lot of pretty pictures of scenery that intersperse emotionally heavy scenes from time to time. Those scenes keep The Descendants on an even keel and,y as they offer up a great subtle bit of advertising. Well, except for the scenes of traffic jams in Honolulu that pepper the opening of the film. [Here's a hint: from Honolulu there is a road that runs right up the middle of the island through the Dole pineapple fields. It takes two hours or so to get to the top of the island, but traffic flows easier the other way around. It's a touristy thing, twenty years old. I don't even know if you can still access the road. That's why it's just a hint...)

So, Matt's got a full plate, just beginning with handling the girls and one stoner boyfriend hanger-on; with an angry father-in-law (whose wife is suffering major Alzheimer's problems); with the rest of the family, most greedy for their take of the billions to come from the land deal. Matt insists that Alex, whose last encounter with mom resulted in a screaming-fest of some kind, go to the hospital and make amends/clear the air as best as possible, since the machines are about to be shut off. Both parents have signed legal papers to such effect so, that's an order.

Alexandra explains the nature of the argument. That mom, who liked fast cars and fast boats and fast men, ran 'em all on her own personal fuel, alcohol -- any kind, any time -- was having an affair and Alex wanted it stopped. "So, Dad, I was standing up for you". (in kidspeak, Dad was totally clueless). Dad doesn't get "punch his lights out crazy" ... he still needs to figure out who the lover is and, well, Hawaii does tend to mellow people out. As long as they're not stuck in a traffic jam, so Matt is OK for most of this film.

Matt does want to find the guy, eventually revealed as a real estate broker called Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), to give the man a chance to say goodbye. The kids don't get that decision either. Go with it, for it leads to the only interesting adult interactions in the film, mostly between Matt and Speer's wife Julia (Judy Greer). We're not getting in to anything regarding those interactions because they happen to be the only parts of The Descendants that will connect with the majority of a general adult audience. (Those of us with no kids, both young actresses do a fine job; the elder doing work far beyond that of the usual unknown actress. She may have been working since age three. We've got no notes and no time to find 'em in the Oscar glut time of year.)

So, from the adult perspective, the story has one smaller plot that is just pure unadulterated Clooney goodness. From a female perspective, the dad/kids interactions -- it's his first attempt at being a "dad" since the eldest girl was three, fourteen years earlier -- add a good hunk to the watchability factors. Which means The Descendants is a chickflick, lighter on tears and with a sop tossed to us guys.

But it's got George Clooney in it. Guys won't complain (it's simple. Girls want to be with him. Guys want to be him. Simple)

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Descendants, he would have paid . . .


Overall it'll be a better rental but, depending what makes it to your local theaters now that the big guns are being drawn for Oscar consideration, it may be easier to get in to see for non-teen dating couples who don't want to wait on line

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The Cranky Critic website is Copyright © 1995  -  2017  by Chuck Schwartz. Articles by Paul Fischer are Copyright © 1999 - 2006 Paul Fischer. All images, unless otherwise noted, are property of,©, ®, their respective studios and are used by permission. All Rights Reserved. Not to be used or copied for any commercial purpose. Academy Award(s) and Oscar®(s) are registered trademarks and service marks of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.