Alexander Payne is one of my favorite directors. The last time he made a film was seven years ago and that movie, "Sideways," wound up being my favorite movie of the year. Now he's finally back with "The Descendants."
George Clooney plays Matt King, an attorney and Hawaiian land baron whose wife lies in a coma after a boating accident. The chances of her recovery are not good.
Matt has a great line — "I'm the backup character, the understudy" — to describe how he has never had to shoulder the sole responsibility of taking care of his two daughters. That job laid predominately with his wife.
So Matt does the best he can dealing with Alex, his rebellious 17-year-old, and Scotty, who's 10.
In addition to dealing with all the kids and his grief, a new wrench is thrown into the mix — Alex says, "Mom is cheating on you."
Matt grills his neighbors for details and sets out on a mission to find this guy and takes the whole family along, including Alex's slacker boyfriend. The search for the mystery guy and that outcome are among the best scenes in the whole movie.
Clooney, who's always a charismatic presence on-screen, turns in an emotionally layered, subtle, Oscar-worthy performance. Shailene Woodley as Alex is also superb.
The always-reliable Judy Greer is excellent in a supporting role.
"The Descendants" is sensitive, intelligent and ultimately moving, as Payne makes movies for grown-ups with meaningful, very human characters.
The humor is not as prevalent as it was in "Sideways," and it's not as good a film. There are a few minor lags and Alex's boyfriend is also a bit of a cliche.
But that said, it's still a very good movie, filled with precious, small, touching moments. I suspect that it will stay with you long after the credits fade.