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The Descendants – movieScope

Whilst the aesthetic of the American indie film is increasingly becoming clichéd and dull, the efforts of Alexander Payne have generally been engaging and funny without descending into the smugness that has engulfed many of his contemporaries.

His first feature since Sideways sees him focusing once again on masculinity and mid-life crisis. George Clooney plays Matt King, a wealthy landowner who seemingly pays scant regard to his wife and children; with his wife in a coma following an accident, however, King must reconnect with his daughters whilst dealing with revelations of infidelity.

There’s much to like here, with some sharp observations on family life and plenty of wryly funny material. Clooney is believable in the lead, managing to be sympathetic yet brattish at the same time, and Shailene Woodley gives extremely able support as one of his precocious offspring alongside Robert Forster as his grumpy father-in-law.

Beyond the dialogue, there’s some nice use of the locations as the laid back atmosphere of Hawaii provides juxtaposition with the upheavals in King’s life. While there are moments when it overstretches itself—the whole conceit of being ‘true to one’s ancestors’ woven throughout the film seems trite—this is ultimately an elegant and entertaining piece of work. (4 stars)

 

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