Friday, February 10, 2012

Coma chameleon

George Clooney plays a frazzled dad and the cuckolded husband of a comatose wife in “The Descendants,” a pretty by-the-numbers family tearjerker directed by Alexander Payne.

Protagonist Matt King was mostly an absentee dad, busy with work while his Hawaii-based family went on with their lives. But his wife (Elizabeth Hastie) figures in an accident, forcing him to salvage some connection to his problematic daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller), while going over the impending decision to sell inherited land.

Clooney’s portrayal of the humiliated husband is quite average; it is, however, a role that lets him project vulnerability and uncertainty, for a change. He’s funny when he’s required to be, but the actor doesn’t always coruscate with empathic energy. The most heart-wrenching scenes belong to Robert Forster, playing his constantly ticked off father-in-law, and the two young actresses portraying the sometimes-annoying siblings. Those three’s reactions to the dying relative are just powerful.

The wife’s medical situation belies her indiscretions, which haunt the affected parties in different ways. That angle is tackled intriguingly, if a tad unevenly. The film could’ve gone smoother had a brisker pace been adapted; some scenes just prolong and belabor the obvious. Still, despite some unnecessary elements, it’s effectively weepy at the right parts.

“The Descendants” opens February 15. 

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