My verdict is great film and for several reasons. The first is the film’s soundtrack. Set in Hawaii, it would have been terribly easy to go for the all-too clichéd ukulele strum and raspy voice that seems to signal ‘tropical paradise’. Instead the music is unique, creative, scene-setting and very complimentary to the story.
Next, there are many scenes involving children, of varying ages, which is a minefield for a screenwriter, but The writer/director Alexander Payne (along with Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, the three of whom share writing credits) navigate the hotspot skillfully. The young girl sounds like a young girl. The teenager sounds like a teenager. Seeing kids act their age in film is refreshing and entertaining. Combine this with a heartfelt performance from Clooney and a surprising and strong performance from Beau Bridges, and we have the foundation for a truly excellent film.
The story built upon this foundation is no let down. On the sliding scale of artistic/accessible, we see the opportunity for the film to be more artistic with symbolism, but is withheld therefrom (for instance, Clooney’s ‘our family is like an archipelago’ speech could have been left out, and leave us the audience to get that). Still at no point do I feel it has been ‘dumbed down’ to broaden it's appeal. We are left to enjoy the complicated relationships and sympathetic portrayals of universal, very human problems.
A beautiful film about family, fidelity, and death, I can’t withhold high praise for the makers of this wonderful gem.