Based on the book of the same name, The Descendants is about a family living in Hawaii. The mother has a boating accident that leaves her in a coma that the doctors say she will never wake up from. She has a living will that says if there is no hope of her getting better then she wants to be taken off all support. The father Matt King (George Clooney) who has been working a lot and did not spend a lot of time with his daughters is now forced to care for them in this difficult time. The youngest daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) is 10 years old and is struggling with what is happening begins to act out. His oldest daughter Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who is 17 is at a boarding school after getting into trouble for drinking.
Things get more complicated when Matt finds out his wife was having an affair and was thinking about asking him for a divorce. Now he is forced to tell their relatives and friends that she is going to die while feeling betrayed and knowing that she no longer loved him. As if his life couldn’t get more complicated, his family owns a large piece of land on the island of Kauai that they are thinking of selling to a developer. With all this going on, he decides to find the man who his wife has been sleeping with and confront him.
Just trying to explain all that it sounds complicated. But even though the movie has a lot going on, it manages to capture real emotion and not get bogged down. Every character in the movie is well rounded. Each has their own flaws and their own virtues. There is no true evil person and no true good person. The best example is Sid (Nick Krause) who plays Alexandra’s friend. He first appears to be just a goofball and has some of the funniest lines in the movie, but then we learn that his father has recently died and he is dealing with his own issues. This is where the movie manages to walk a fine line. He could have been just another tragic character but it is not over played and we learn just enough to know that there is more to him than meets the eye. That is the talent of writer and director Alexander Payne.
Beside the writing and directing, this is a well-acted movie. In the beginning of the movie I wasn’t sure if George Clooney was the right person to play this character but then he won me over. For me the breakout star was Shailene Woodley who I had never heard of before this movie. She is amazing as the rebellious teenager who has to come to terms with her love-hate relationship with her mother. There was a lot of talk about her getting a Best Supporting Actress Nomination and after seeing the movie I am surprised she didn’t.
Overall the movie shows a slice of life that feels real. I was suprised at how sad it was but it also had its share of funny moments. I like movies that show both the good and bad side of people and that is what this movie delivered. Well written, directed, and acted. With a unique score that features all Hawaiian music.
In addition to Best Picture, it is also nominated for Best Actor for George Clooney, Best Director for Alexander Payne, Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay for Alexander Payne, Jim Rash, and Nat Faxon. Its best chance of winning is for Best Actor where George Clooney has been the front runner since his win at the Golden Globes, but he has been getting some recent competition from Jean Dujardin of The Artist who won the Screen Actors Guild Best Actor prize. If any movie is going to upset The Artist it would be this one, and could also score a win for Best Adapted Screenplay but I think Moneyball is still the favorite in that category.