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During the opening moments of “The Descendants”, I could not help to think “oh this is what an American version of ‘Beginners’ looks like”. After half an hour, I was worried that it would be an American, or Hawaiian, version that would not even be half as good as “Beginners”. In the end, I was happy to see that it had taken some interesting twists and turns and had found its own story.

My worries were not justified, it is a good film, and the best thing about it is … no, not George Clooney or his handsomely grey hairline. It is the conflict Clooney is confronted with. As this happens in the first 20 minutes, I guess it is not really a spoiler to say that Matt King’s (Clooney’s) wife has a near-fatal accident, is in hospital in a coma, and this is when he finds out that his wife has had an affair with another guy for a while. Many interesting decisions need to be made by Matt building on this fact: how to deal with his wife, her imminent death, but it also plays into business dealings in a major way. Dealing with this initially invisible, then briefly visible character, or rather with the fact of his marriage being in shambles much longer than he realized (if he realized at all), having his hands full with the prime plague of a single parent, two adolescent daughters, he walks through his life in a slightly melancholic (very George Clooney’ish) way, very controlled, even balancing private and work life, but realizing that there are things he cannot do on his own. He draws in others (his daughter, his in-laws, even at some point the lover of his wife) intentionally to allow life to be in order again. Family is mentioned a lot here, the whole film is set before a background of a large family heritage being processed, and it seems that if there is a key message of the film, Alexander Payne wants to tell the audience that dealing with catastrophes in a collaborative way usually helps. That is not big news, but it makes for a well-developed, unspectacularly warm-hearted film.

In the final scene, we see a family sitting together in their house near the Hulalahula beach watching a film about Antarctica and penguins… I was wondering whether this is the Hawaiian version of adult extreme tv…

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_descendants_2011/

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