1/2/2012 1:13:00 AM
The Descendants (PG) * *
By ROBERT WALDMAN
Good looks can’t mask dark secrets that have a way of turning folks inside out in The Desendants, a hard-hitting tale from Fox Searchlight Films now squaring off at the Fifth Avenue Cinemas.
Family life can be tough to handle. Problems seem to come from out of nowhere for a successful businessman in The Descendants. Trouble in paradise seems to have found one Matt King. Born into privilege, hunky George Clooney (Ocean’s 11) leaves the laughs stateside as a jaded Hawaiian real estate mogul trying to grapple with a number of “issues”. Married and with two young daughters Matt gets the shock of his life when his wife has a horrendous accident.
Gut check time comes early for this hard-working lawyer who also must cope with a pending sale of his family’s property. While these events cloud his perception Matt must also try as best he can to raise teenager Alexandra and five your old Scottie. Oh, those teen years can be a minefield and Shailene Woodley effectively conveys pressures while younger Amara Miller makes an impressive film debut as a child with all sorts of emotional problems.
Set in Hawaii and Maui there’s no denying that this film does have an island flavour to it. Life here seems a touch more laid back and Clooney shows solid and rugged determination as a confused father at wit’s end as to how to deal with the crises that currently engulf his life. Director/writer Alexander Payne (Election) goes to great pains to make The Descendants as realistic as possible and he succeeds in showcasing family strains and pressures for 115 minutes.
Hawaiian traditions are glossed over here and the film makes a number of points on greed and a desire to leave things alone and put a brake on development and progress. Emotions run high among all members of the King family including relatives out to make a quick buck. Clooney anchors this film and does a great job playing a concerned father battling all sorts of inner demons as some pretty devastating secrets perk up. Side issues are important but there are too many convenient happenings that are a tad too far-fetched to be believed which takes some of the edge from this somewhat depressing journey.
Fans of serious drama and family fare with a penchant for the slower country living at the Aloha State should feel right at home watching The Descendants, a family friendly film which sharply contrasts to that other 50th State import Hawaii Five – 0.