Alexander Payne takes the easy way out time and again in The Descendants, a tale that wants to be mature but can’t help shortchanging its drama through constant reliance on its protagonist’s unimpeachable nobility. Lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) is a man faced with two unavoidable deadlines regarding his need to let go of the past: his wife is in a fatal coma and has a pull-the-plug living will that must soon be executed, and his family’s enormous centuries-old real estate holdings must by law be sold. The former is hardly a choice, and the latter’s outcome is never in question – especially since Matt is encouraged early on by a local woman to not sell his land, and he later visits the property and is told (foreshadowing!) by his youngest daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) that she wishes she could have camped there like her mother and older sister Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) did. On top of these issues, as well as Scottie’s profane acting-out in school and Alexandra’s drunken troublemaking, Matt’s in-crisis life is thrown for a further loop when he learns that his wife was cheating on him before her catastrophic accident, a plot twist that might have worked in this overcrowded script (based on Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel) if it hadn’t turned out that her extramarital paramour (Matthew Lillard) had intimate, and thoroughly contrived, ties to Matt’s land deal. Payne’s direction is competent but his depiction of Hawaii as a place of both everyday suburban normalcy and great beauty would have struck a stronger chord if that point weren’t overtly articulated by the film’s unnecessary and lazy intro narration. Similarly, Clooney’s performance treads a winning line between serious pathos and comedic likability, yet his Matt is too often driven not by real anger, frustration and vengeance as much as fantasy-land holier-than-thou dignity and decency. Consequently, the film’s portrait of both letting go and embracing one’s family and heritage (replete with more than one sequence of Matt staring at sepia-hued ancestral photos) repeatedly fails to find a true emotional note – a fact never more stark than in Matt’s wholly unbelievable decision to be accompanied on his various dramedic shenanigans by Alexandra’s dim-witted friend Sid (Nick Krause), with whom Matt eventually bonds in a scene of near-stunning phoniness.