Based on the novel of the same name written by Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants is a brilliant movie.
Frontman George Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian lawyer and land baron, who faces two simple-yet-complicated problems at the movie’s outset: his wife Elizabeth, played by Patricia Hastie, is comatose from a boating accident, and he and his cousins are planning to sell a giant piece of unspoiled land on Kauai that has been in their family’s care for generations.
The story really picks up when Matt learns that Elizabeth will never recover and must be taken off life-support, and that she was cheating on him with a man that he later learns will profit from the land’s sale.
It’s from that discovery that Matt goes to find his wife’s lover: not to confront him, though that happens too, but to give him a chance to say goodbye to her.
While the quest itself is compelling, it’s not the amazing part.
Matt is the father to two daughters and is disconnected from them – in an early voiceover, he describes himself as “the back-up parent” – and with the death of Elizabeth imminent, Matt has to learn to be a dad again.
17-year-old Alex, played by Shailene Woodley, is the one who clued him in on Elizabeth’s infidelity, but is not overly impressed with his reaction – according to her, the fact he was in the dark is proof he wasn’t a good husband.
Her younger sister, 10-year-old Scottie, played by Amara Miller, is a bully, mocking a peer about her early “development” but acting like an adult in the wrong way: multiple swears exit her mouth over the movie’s course.
It’s the preparation to let Elizabeth go that drives the story, but the bond that forms between Matt and his daughters is the heart.
The Descendants is rated R, though there is no gratuitous sex or violence. It is, though, a great story that is told. Rated R for language, including some sexual references.