‘The Descendants’: Alexander Payne’s slow-burning ramble

Don’t mess with these two: Playing father and daughter, George Clooney and Shailene Woodley are on a serious fact-finding mission.
Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

The director of “Sideways” and “Election” is not one for the predictable story arc. While his films don’t exactly wander, there’s never any clue as to where the story is going. Some people love that. But the lifelike nature of that approach can take all the fun out of watching it. Payne relies on the richness of the story to keep your interest. That doesn’t always work.

In “The Descendants,” George Clooney plays a Hawaiian land baron coping with a wife on life support and two young girls he’s never really had to help raise. As he tries to keep the family functioning, he finds out some harsh truths about the secret life his wife had been living. Also, he’s in the midst of a heated family debate about selling virgin property to a rich hotel developer.

It’s great to see Clooney in a schlubby dad role and, as usual, he brings on the charm. But the supporting young actresses who play his daughters, Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, sometimes outshine him in  comedic moments, which is great to see.

Funny and touching, but occasionally plodding and aimless, this film’s treasures often outweigh its troubles. Just don’t expect to be on the edge of your seat.


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