Review: The Descendants
I realize this is a bit late considering I probably should have reviewed this film a bit earlier as the Award shows have come and gone. However, I didn't watch this film because I figured it was simply another light hearted comedic drama starring George Clooney. With me, his films are usually hit or miss. This one surprised me as I had no idea what it was about before seeing it. While it isn't one of the best dramas I've seen, and it didn't carry with it a message like some of the better dramas over the years, it still was a solid film in a down year. Instead of being Clooney's patented self, he is more of a man filled with self doubt and regret, which is something we haven't seen him play before.
The plot follows a Honolulu based lawyer, Matt King (George Clooney), who is the sole trustee of 25,000 acres of a beautiful piece of land on the island of Kuau'i. Matt has been working to sell the land, against the locals wishes to Kuau'i native Don Holitzer for development. Matt almost feels obligated to sell the land due to his trust ended in seven years. However, all of this comes into question following a boating accident in Waikiki that renders Matt's wife Elizabeth comatose. He sits by her side wishing for her to wake up, promising that their floundering marriage will improve as he will not work as much and spend more time by her side. Matt also has two daughters, 10 year old Scottie (Amanda Miller) and 17 year old Alex (Shailene Woodley). Matt isn't very close with his two daughters as he had neglected his relationships with them just like he had with Elizabeth in favor of his work and selling the land. He frequently calls himself "the back-up parent" as he all to often never knew what to say to his daughters and could never really relate to them. With Elizabeth in a coma, he is then forced to deal with Scottie's inappropriate behavior around other children and Alex's destructive behavior as she had been in boarding school drinking alcohol. However, it all becomes a bit too much when Matt is told that Elizabeth has it in her will that if she is living by machines that she'd rather die. Knowing that, the doctors tell him that she will come off the machines and die in a few days.
Matt takes it upon himself that he has to mend his relationship with his daughters, as for one it will help him with the grieving process and it will also make it easier for them. He also struggles to tell other people about how Elizabeth is doing, but decides he has to tell Alex. Alex doesn't take it well as she wished to be able to confront her mother on a touchy subject that resulted in her being sent to boarding school and effectively soured their relationship. Alex tells her father that before she was sent to boarding school she caught her mother with another man. Thus sending Matt into a mission on finding the man that had an affair with his wife.
The film is simply at it's core about a man re-connecting with his two daughters that are essentially estranged to him while also grieving over the death of his wife. The story isn't something new, but benefits from great performances by George Clooney and surprisingly Shailene Woodley. Clooney does a fantastic job of being a man filled with regret over his failures as a father and a husband while also doubting his abilities to be a single father of two woman that very much could turn out to be as volatile as his wife. I would even go as far to say that in terms of actual performance, this may be his best film. Woodley pulls what could be a career defining role as the defiant, foul-mouthed but strong teenage daughter. The film has a very good pace and also benefits from a solid script penned by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Alexander Payne does once again a fantastic job behind the camera as well.