The travels undertaken by George Clooneys harried, married Matt King character in this dramedy are done so mostly via plane, as he criss-crosses three of Hawaiis eight islands in search of a stranger he doesnt want to face, but stalks with great determination nonetheless.
An attorney, Matts laid-back life is hit with a metaphorical tsunami not once, but twice when his wife (Patricia Hastie) is thrown from a boat and into a vegetative state. The news from doctors that shes not expected to recover is worsened by the accidental revelation that she was invested deeply in an affair with a realtor by the name of Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard, whod better be thanking his stars the title page of his script doesnt bear the words Scooby or Doo).
Egged on by his estranged, troubled daughter, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley, TVs The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Matt embarks on a search for this Mr. Speer for curiosity, closure and/or confrontation, were not sure which.
What the audience can be sure of is this is the best Clooney has ever been. The man is always magnetic, but in terms of strict emotions, of being human, hes right on target, with much of Matts regret and anguish told through Clooneys hangdog eyes rather than lines from the page until the end, when Matt has to tell his wife the words hes kept bottled for years. It feels real, honest just the sort of portrayal rewarded with trophies cast in any number of precious metals come years end.
So is the film, the first for director/ co-writer Alexander Payne since winning an Academy Award for 2004s Sideways. Like that project, this one is full of fine performances, from Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) as Matts grumpy father-in-law to Judy Greer (Love and Other Drugs) as Speers down-to-earth wife. Behind Clooney, Greer gets the movies biggest scene; Forster, its biggest laugh.
Opening today at AMC Quail Springs Mall 24, The Descendants is not perfect. The two daughters newcomer Amara Miller being the other lean a tad toward the sitcom side, and one of Paynes scene transitions looks like someone clicked wipe on the iMovie menu.
Yet such infractions are minor; like an anti-Terms of Endearment, Paynes makes a mature work for mature adults without the sugary overdose of sentimentality.