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Alexander Payne is no stranger to pain.

It's his NAME!


Seriously though, very few filmmakers these days capture loneliness quite as skilfully as Payne. Sideways, About Schmidt and Election all great examples of how to make a lonely guy movie right. What makes these films work, strong performances aside, is the way the protagonists are portrayed: they aren't perfect. Frankly... they're kind of assholes. These are flawed beings: jealous, petty, selfish. Sadly, this is why we can identify with them so easily. Payne's dark sense of humour, along with some razor-sharp writing and a heartfelt look at some of the most loveable dummies you'll ever meet usually proves to be a winning formula.

So how does The Descendants fare?

Lets just say it fits in nicely as a good companion piece to About Schmidt. Though not quite as heartbreaking or funny as the latter, it's a more grown-up movie in some ways. Focusing less on jokes and more on giving the story the weight it requires whilst keeping the mood as light as possible. It's a coming-of-age story, not a super late mid-life crisis so a different animal altogether.

The film is set in Hawaii and stars George Clooney as the well-meaning dad trying to keep his family together after his wife is left fighting for her life following a boat accident. He does a great job in a role that, admittedly, he could play by now in his sleep. It has the right mix of comedy and drama for the actor to effortlessly do what he does best: think Up In The Air but much less passive, performance-wise. The supporting cast is, as ever, spot-on and creates a nice variety of fun, off-beat characters.

The story and its environmental (but subtle enough) subplot are both good but slight. It really is all about these characters' emotional journeys. Not a bad thing, especially when it's well done, it just means the film really is more of a sweet fable than anything truly deeper. Almost all of Payne's films have that sensibility but The Descendants underlines it the most.

Overall, while it's no Sideways, Payne's latest can stand proudly next to About Schmidt as a small but significant, smart, funny, very good black comedy with Clooney playing his age and LOTS of Hawaiian shirts.

Well worth a look.

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