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Descendants, The (Blu-ray Review)

23 Mar, 2012 By: Billy Gil

Box Office $81.99 million
$29.98 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
‘R’ for language including some sexual references.
Stars George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Amara Miller, Nick Krause, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard.

Writer-director Alexander Payne’s The Descendants helps restore a good name to the family drama.

Opening with the sight of a woman having the time of her life on a waterski being pulled from a boat, we soon learn her fate, as Elizabeth King is put into a coma after an accident, never to wake up. This leaves her overworked lawyer husband, Matt (George Clooney), in charge of their two daughters, teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and tween Scottie (Amara Miller).

The absentee father hasn’t a clue what to do with his rebellious daughters — Alexandra swears and drinks like a sailor, while Scottie flips off her dad and makes fun of another girl in school for developing early. Just like he didn’t have a clue that his wife has been boinking a local real estate agent, Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), until an upset Alexandra spills the beans.

Here’s where it gets complicated: The Kings inherited a prime chunk of undisturbed land in Hawaii, where the film is set, that they’re about to sell. Speer is set to make oodles through various sales.

The Descendants really hits its stride once Matt packs up the girls and heads on a “vacation” in order to spy on Speer. However wrongheaded Matt is, especially when it comes to dragging his daughters into the mess, we can’t help but feel for Matt and the tricky situation in which he’s been placed. Payne, director of Sideways, About Schmidt and Election, is an expert in creating sympathetic schmucks.

Based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants isn’t without its flaws — such as its overdone “Hey, we’re in Hawaii!” setting and costumes where everyone and everything is Hawaiian shirts and leis all the time. The film threatens to careen into schlock along the way but is routinely saved by strong acting all around, particularly from young Woodley and Miller, who turn in Oscar-worthy performances. Clooney is in high form, too, although it’s sometimes hard to believe his haplessness through his trademark charm. The film’s genuinely moving moments shine through the more “Lifetime Channel” ones and it ends up being a rare film rife with both feeling and craft.

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