It's hard to argue with director Alexander Payne's track record. Each film he's made is arguably better than the last, and his entire body of work is heartfelt, hilarious and pitch-perfect.

It’s hard to argue with director Alexander Payne’s track record. Each film he’s made is arguably better than the last, and his entire body of work is heartfelt, hilarious and pitch-perfect.

Payne’s films — including “Election,” “Sideways” and “About Schmidt” — all feel uniquely his, which is interesting, as he nearly always adapts his scripts from novels.

His latest film, “The Descendants,” is endearingly familiar as a Payne movie, but it didn’t live up to my lofty expectations.

George Clooney stars as Matt King, a father struggling to connect with his daughters after a boating accident leaves his wife in a coma.

Matt is also the head of a family trust that owns a huge chunk of undeveloped land in Hawaii. The family — descendants of Hawaiian royalty — is considering a sale that will affect the future of the islands for decades to come.

“Descendants” works a vein of comedy in the face of tragedy that perhaps only Payne could pull off, and there are outstanding performances from Clooney and Shailene Woodley.

But the two-tiered story takes a while to gain traction, and the diversions are less delightful. It’s not Payne’s best work, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t pretty great.