You're invited to join the DC Movie Bears on Wednesday, November 30, at the Landmark E-St. Cinema, for the 6:30pm showing of The Descendants. Join fellow moviebears for a quick dinner at Qdoba at 6pm. For more information, visit the DC Movie Bears Yahoo Group
SYNOPSIS: Matt King is an indifferent husband and fatherof two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family's land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries.
REVIEW FROM THE NEW YORKER: The first thing you need to know about Alexander Payne's "The Descendants" is that it takes place in Hawaii. Not that we spend our time gazing at the glory of the islands; there's a lavish crane shot in which Matt King (George Clooney) points out the unspoiled patch of coastal land that his family has owned for generations, but Payne prefers to focus on the foreground, and on the battle of the Kings.
Matt and his extended clan are preparing to sell their swath of Eden for development, a deal that will bring them riches untold--so long as Matt, in his capacity as chief trustee, agrees to sign it. He seems distracted, though, and no wonder, for his wife, recently injured in a boating accident, lies in a hospital, sunk in a coma from which, he is told, she will never wake. Matt's first task is to break the news to his daughters, ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and her grouchy teen-aged sister, Alexandra (Shailene Woodley). Hitherto he has been, as he admits, "the backup parent, the understudy," and now comes his bid to assume the leading role.
This is fairly fresh terrain for Clooney, though it verges on the haplessness of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" Watch Matt as he breaks into a puffing sprint, his gallop rendered not just unmanly but frankly girlish by the clop of his boat shoes, which seem to be compulsory for all citizens. The reason for Matt's haste is that, via friends, he has learned of Elizabeth's disloyalty. Before the crash, she was cheating on him with a real-estate agent named Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), and, though Matt confronts her in the hospital, ranting vainly at her motionless form, what he really yearns to do is meet Brian, face to face. And what he really fears to do is take a look at himself.
In short, "The Descendants" is the latest exhibit in Payne's careful dissection of the beached male, which runs from Matthew Broderick's character in "Election" to Jack Nicholson's in "About Schmidt" and Paul Giamatti's in "Sideways." The younger creatures in the new film--well played by Woodley and Miller, with a special mention to Nick Krause, who triumphs in the role of Sid, Alexandra's stoner pal--may look baffled, but they are fighting to make something of their lives, whereas you get an inescapable sense that the lives of the older guys have already been made for them. Lillard's little-boy grin, though ideal for selling real estate, tells of panic rather than cheekiness, and Brian's encounter with Matt is not a clash of rutting males but a semi-polite standoff between two fleshy, faltering souls, striving to live up to the brazenness of their shirts.
We have seen such leisurewear before, on Frank Sinatra and Montgomery Clift, as they toured the local bars, in "From Here to Eternity." Both films are infused with the atmosphere of their Hawaiian setting, and its strange compound of chillout and treachery. Everyone remembers Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling in the surf, but stay with that scene and you soon find it foaming with accusation and shame. Something similar happens to "The Descendants," with damp squalls and difficult mists nagging at the edge of people's amicable warmth. Both films conclude, too, with floral garlands cast into the ocean, though Payne provides an aftermath--a delicious downtime, in which Matt and his children sit on the couch with ice cream and watch TV. Death, which has loomed ahead throughout, begins to drift away behind them, and the film completes its journey: from eternity to here.