Matt King (George Clooney) is devastated when his wife is put into a coma from a boating accident. Then the doctor has to give him word that there just is no hope. There are no brain functions and his wife is being kept alive only by machines. Next he has to pick-up his highschool aged daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) at her boarding school on another island (the family home is on Oahu). The younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is already a handful and Matt doesn’t know how he’s going to raise these girls by himself. Of course he has yet to tell them that their mother will never recover.
Then Alexaxandra tells him that his wife (her mother) has been having an affair. This initiates another thread, the most interesting one, and the one that bonds Matt with Alexandra: tracking down the man who had an affair with his wife. When they find and confront him (he’s a real estate broker), you can guess the implications of that.
Matt, a real estate lawyer in charge of an old family trust consisting of extremely valuable pristine land, has a lot to process in this big, broken hearted film. Which is not to say it’s all tragic and weepy. It is not. Life affirming, this film has several light moments amidst the tragic ones, all of which balance the tragic sense of loss. Perhaps the funniest moment in the film (used in the promo) is the sight of Clooney sprinting out of the house in flip-flops right after his daughter has told him how she found out about the affair. But there are others: Alexandra’s boyfriend is a big, immature goof, but Matt senses Alexandra’s need for him after he has had a late night insomnia induced chat. He’s had his own sorrows and family dysfunctions yet he seems to be a good-hearted kid.
But this is Clooneys’ film – with strong support from by now veteran tv actress Shailene Woodley in her first feature film. Special mention to Robert Forster as the curmudgeonly Scott Thorson, the father of Matt’s comatose wife Elizabeth, who never believed that Matt was good enough for his angel daughter. Matt never disabuses him of this notion.
The Descendants is from a popular novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings (who has a cameo as Matt’s secretary). Alexander Payne won his second Oscar for this film (the first being for the surprising Sideways.) Although the film won the Golden Globe for Best Picture along with a Best Actor award for Clooney, it got shut out in the Oscars, except for the screenplay adaptation award.
This one is definitely worth a look-see.