Hawaii is the location of this drowsy family drama, Alexander Payne’s latest feature after 2004’s wonderful SIDEWAYS, and any comparison between the two movies, as far apart as they may be now, will find THE DESCENDANTS sorely wanting. George Clooney has the responsibility of a few generations here as Matt King, a landowner who must reassess the relationship he has with his two young daughters, and the property owned by his family, after his wife ends up comatose in the hospital following a boating accident. Her history is only known through the remaining characters, chiefly Clooney’s, and ultimately any grief the audience has for her loss is only as considerable as the feeling evoked by his central performance. Unfortunately, Payne’s multitude of close-ups only serve to reveal how inexpressive Clooney’s face is, and limited his talents are (beyond some hammy running), for this kind of unpolished role and the vulnerability it requires. The work that a more capable actor – Paul Giamatti, most obviously – might have achieved with the same amount of screen time ends up being a regret larger and more diverting than any other in this disappointing and needlessly lengthy story.
<< Shailene Woodley (Alexandra); Alexander Payne (Writer-Director); and George Clooney (Matt King) at the photocall for THE DESCENDANTS at the BFI London Film Festival 2011.
THE DESCENDANTS played Toronto and London 2011. It opens in the USA on November 23rd; in Germany, Ireland and the UK on January 20th; in Lithuania on January 27th; in the Netherlands and Turkey on February 3rd and in France on February 29th.