The Descendants

Balancing offbeat humour and abject sentiment, Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt) rides the perfect wave between comedy and drama in this tale of a shattered family in Hawaii. George Clooney does a credible job of dulling his charisma as an ineffectual lawyer and father whose wife has been having an affair—something he discovers only after a powerboat accident has put her in a serious coma. But his unruly daughters, especially the elder teen played by Shailene Woodley, are the driving force of this movie, which follows a wonderfully unpredictable course through some breathtaking landscape. Payne does for Hawaii what he did for wine in Sideways. “In Hawaii,” says Clooney’s character, “some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen.” That’s just one wry observation in a bittersweet social comedy that treats the Pacific “paradise” as lead character, portrayed, by turns, with rhapsodic beauty and idiosyncratic wit.