Grae's Rating:

4.5

Mahalo, Mr. Payne

If anybody knows how to run around in dad sandals wearing a polo shirt, searching for answers and throwing his hands up in desperation, and somehow still making it hotter than it is normally, it's George Clooney. And if there's anyone whose direction can make all of that seem completely believable, horrifying, and hilarious at the same time, it's Alexander Payne. So, get your Oscar ballots out, because this is precisely the kind of movie that deserves to be spoofed in a big fancy montage at the Kodak Theater.

Everything about this movie is unexpected. Payne's movies, like Sideways and About Schmidt always seem on the surface to be about broken people bumping into each other and looking forlorn. Luckily, they always end up written with such compassion and complexity that as an audience member, it's nearly impossible to not relate to them in some way. This is not just a movie about an uptight rich guy--it's a movie about family and how the only way out is through.

Matt King (Clooney) is a man who was sensible about living--his family owns a ton of land in Hawaii and he is in charge of a very wealthy trust. However, he has chosen to live only off what he makes as a lawyer. When his wife gets into a boating accident and falls into a coma, he has to take charge of a family that he is the self-proclaimed "secondary parent" of. Forced to roll up his sleeves and deal with the weirdness of his teenage daughters and the heartbreak of learning his wife was having an affair before her accident, Matt gets a crash course in Making It Work. It's hard to be sensible when there are strange, mouthy teenagers hanging out with your family that get smacked in the face.

Payne is a master of creating "you had to be there" moments in his movies. His films are so rich with nuance and realism that it's easy to mistake fleeting moments in his films with ones from your own life. With an experienced cast like Robert Forster, Judy Greer and Matthew Lillard it comes as no surprise, but you might not expect it from the younger actors such as his daughters played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, as well as the annoying and omnipresent best friend Nick Krause. I still can't understand how these people aren't actually related. Payne's movie is one more love letter to imperfection that renews my affection for the predicament of being human.

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