Movie Review: The Descendants

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George Clooney (“The Ides of March,” “Up in the Air“) sheds his ‘movie-star’ persona and simply becomes a family man, clearly in over his head in “The Descendants,” written and directed by Alexander Payne (“Sideways”).

Matt King is a middle-aged, workaholic lawyer just trying to keep his head above water with his newfound life challenges.  Sitting at his comatose wife’s bedside, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), after her boating accident, finding out about her affair, being left to handle and raise a handful young daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller) and a foul-mouthed, rebellious teenage daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), tagged along by her foot in mouth-prone boyfriend (Nick Krause).

On the extended family side, he’s also dealing with a disapproving father-in-law and mother-in-law suffering from Alzheimer, bearing the responsibility of making an overarching decision about the fate of the land passed down from his royal ancestors, and managing diverging interests and quibbles among his cousins.

Clooney does his best work here, expertly conveying an array of conflicting emotions through a split-second of facial expression or body movement.  Shock, disbelief, heartbreak, anguished, anger, clueless, weariness, sorrow, joy, love, grace, peace.  You’d experience his emotions and really feel for him.

The father-daughter relationships dynamic, particularly with his older daughter, is the heart of the film.  Woodley is solidly believable; she could easily pass as Clooney’s daughter in real life.  She hits the right notes whether she’s displaying false nonchalance or outward hostility, containing or expressing her feelings of hurt, anger, frustration, loss, grief over finding out about her mother’s affair and being disconnected from her father, all the while supporting her bertrayed father in tracking down her mother’s lover (Matthew Lillard), and feeling partially responsible for shielding her younger sister from reality.

“The Descendants” is a heartfelt road trip down the family lane, sprinkled with contemporary teen speak, sharp jabs and perfectly timed humor amidst tragedy.  This is not a story with monumental events or milestones.  But it’s genuinely absorbing.  Funny, sad, quirky.  The Hawaiian setting adds a unique dimension and is a character on its own.

“The Descendants” is an incredibly affective family-centric dramedy, leaving an island of impressions.

Copyright (c) 2012. Nathalia Aryani.

Nathalia Aryani is a business manager, foreign language translator, lifestyle/travel writer and film columnist. She can be reached at Nathalia owns a movies blog, The MovieMaven (  Twitter:

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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