Matt King (George Clooney) is a busy man. He is the sole trustee on his family’s inheritance. One of their ancestors was a Hawaiian princess. Her husband made lucrative land deals. This left the King family with a huge lot of pristine Hawaiian land. Due to changes in the laws, the family must decide if, and to whom, they want to sell the land before they lose it all. Despite his inherited wealth, Matt supports his family only with what he makes practicing law. Between these two ventures, Matt is always busy working and traveling.
Of course, there is a cost associated with this. His family. Both his daughters, Scottie (Amara Miller) and Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) are rebellious and act up. Alexandra has even found herself in several boarding schools to try to help turn her around.
Then there is Matt’s wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie). She spends her time pursuing all types of thrill-seeking activities, including boat racing. During one race, the boat flips, sending her into a coma.
Matt must now figure out how to be more than the “backup parent.” He has to juggle being a father, and trying to reconnect with his daughters, the sale of the trust, his law practice, and, of course, his ailing wife. Not an easy task for anyone, let alone someone who hasn’t been a very active participant in the family.
After receiving the news that Elizabeth isn’t going to come out of the coma, Matt must find a way to tell everyone. While talking to Alexandra, she tells him that Elizabeth had been cheating on him. Matt’s obsession becomes to find the man she was cheating with. He’s not sure what he’ll do when he finds him, but feels he should know that Elizabeth is going to die. Matt packs up Scottie, Alexandra, and her friend, Sid (Nick Krause) and goes on a vacation. His destination, the same island where Elizabeth’s boyfriend (Matthew Lillard) is vacationing.
Set against a beautiful Hawaiian backdrop, The Descendants lets you watch as a family goes through the gamut of emotions of almost the entire grief cycle. Really, two grief cycles at the same time. The realization that your wife/mother is going to die. And the realization that your wife/mother wasn’t faithful. I cannot imagine what that would do to a person, or a family.
The story is not one that I have seen before. At least not to this extent. Always a refreshing change from the churning and re-churning of stories I’ve grown up with. The writing is well done, difficult to do for a dramedy (that’s a drama/comedy). Of course it’s a heart-breaking story. But there’s enough comedy that it doesn’t feel heavy-handed. It’s an interesting mix that keeps you right on the edge, emotionally speaking. You’ll be constantly wondering if you’re laughing at appropriate times. And that’s fine.
The acting is excellent. George Clooney is, well, George Clooney. Consummate professional. No need to question his ability. Shailene Woodley, whom I assuming is a relative newcomer to the big screen, does a superb job. (My sources at IMdb show this is, in fact, her first movie role.) The emotions come across as raw and real. Never feeling fake or forced. Nick Krause and Amara Miller come across as comic relief for the movie. But both have their moments to show they can be a little deeper than that.
Quick side note: Did you know they still make movies in 2D? After the run of movies I’ve seen lately, it threw me off a bit. But 3D would have been completely gratuitous and distracting for this movie.
Overall, this is a very good movie. One that most would enjoy. I’ll warn you about the language, if you are concerned about that kind of thing. Other than that, nothing offensive. Just a solid emotional journey as the family tries to pull itself back together.