Watched Jun 21, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
What could have so easily been an overly sentimental and cloying movie about grief, family and relationships deftly skirts the obvious pitfalls to deliver a beautifully judged character piece that has a refreshing lightness without avoiding the more emotional issues at the centre of the story.
It all started so differently with an unnecessary and heavy-handed voice over narration that spelled out themes and metaphors that the audience should have discovered themselves (the way he relates the islands of Hawaii to his own family seemed particularly obvious). Yet after 15-minutes the narration is jettisoned and the film slowly finds its feet. There is little here in story terms that will come as a surprise but the journey is sensitively handled with astute observations and believable characters. Alexander Payne clouds the emotions of the film beautifully. The terminal mother is far from the saint you would expect with this type of movie. Instead the family have genuine resentment and anger towards her yet an unquestionable love too. At the point you think the film will go down an overblown moment of emotional release, Payne will normally pull back or go down an entirely different route. But by subverting expectation this way the film is perhaps even more emotionally affecting.
George Clooney is excellent as the father thrust into a situation he is ill equipped to deal with. It is a restrained and nuanced performance but arguably one of his finest to date. He is brilliantly supported by his two daughters played with little pretension by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller. They are conflicted, awkward, rude and amusing - pretty much like real children their age. As with all of Payne’s film it is unshowy but there are moments of real beauty here and he uses the Hawaiian setting very well.
Having been slightly disappointed with Sideways it is nice to see Payne back with possibly his best film.