Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Daddy Cool

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Daddy Cool

Article excerpt

Byline: David Sexton FILM OF THE WEEK

THE DESCENDANTS Cert 15, 115 mins [bar] N THAT excellent film Up in the Air, the footloose philanderer played by George Clooney crumbles when, calling unexpectedly on his lover, he finds that not only is she married but has kids too. He can't deal with that at all. It's not possible. Indeed, has Clooney ever played a family man before? In The Descendants, that's the big challenge he faces and if he doesn't absolutely succeed in every scene, especially when he's playing Dad to a truculent 10-year-old girl, that's okay, because what this movie is about is a man learning for the first time who his real family are, from a fairly low starting point.

The Descendants is the first film Alexander Payne has made since Sideways, his 2004 rueful comedy about middle-aged men messing up while on a tour of Californian wine producers. This new film is set in a tourist destination too (Hawaii) and once again tackles male mid-life travails in affluent circumstances with warmth and sympathy as well as some spikiness. It has been skilfully adapted by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash from an excellent debut novel of the same name by Kaui Hart Hemmings, deservedly winning Oscar nominations this week for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Film-editing, Best Director and Best Actor.

The novel is narrated in the first person by Matt King (Clooney), which is notably well handled by the screenplay. After some initial voiceover exposition, it shows rather than tells, but Clooney is in every scene, so it remains his story.

Matt is Hawaiian royalty, a descendant of a 19th-century marriage between a European banker and a Hawaiian princess who bequeathed to their family vast tracts of land, now held in trust. The last great undeveloped stretch, a beautiful bay, is about to be sold, further enriching Matt (who cautiously prefers to live off his income as a lawyer) and his feckless cousins -- but the decision whether or not to go ahead with the scheme is his alone. Thus this is a film partly about real estate on a grand scale. But it's also about family ties, fidelities and infidelities, tangled and crossed, reconsidered and renewed.

Before the narrative starts, Matt's wife Elizabeth has been injured in a speedboat accident. She now lies in a coma and is not expected to recover -- a mute witness to what goes on around her hospital bed.

Matt has to take care of their two girls, Scottie, 10, self-absorbed and truculent (Amara Miller, brilliantly cast), and Alex, an angry and rebellious teenager (Shailene Woodley, highly engaging too). Matt has always been "the back-up parent, the understudy", as he says selfdeprecatingly.

Now he has to step up to the mark. But while he's trying to tell his daughters their mother will not recover, Alex reveals that before the accident her mother had been having an affair. …

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