The Descendants

6 12 2011

The Descendents has ‘Oscar’ written all over it. Set in Hawaii, it features George Clooney as a wealthy lawyer experiencing a midlife crisis. With superb acting, phenomenal storytelling, and a moving conclusion, The Descendents is one of the best movies of the year.

Matt King (George Clooney) is struggling with a number of different problems. His wife has recently entered a coma after a serious boating accident. He is struggling to connect with his kids, and, to top it all off, he must quickly decide whether or not to sell thousands of acres of pristine land on the island of Kauai.

I know, I know. As described there, The Descendants must sound pretty boring. Haven’t we seen George Clooney play a middle aged man experiencing a midlife crisis before?

Fortunately, The Descendants tackles these problems in such a unique and powerful way that it ends up feeling different than almost any other movie of its kind. And, with more than enough humor and beautiful scenery to lighten the mood, it never feels too old or cheesy.

Without spoiling the plot, all of the storylines in The Descendents – from Matt’s land deal to his wife’s coma – come together in the end, and it’s one of those movies that just gets better and better as it continues. What starts off as a Hallmark-movie in Hawaii turns into something much more powerful.

One of the major features I liked was its authenticity. The characters are making believable decisions during a time of major upheaval in their lives. Sometimes, life doesn’t let you focus on just one problem – like having your wife in a coma. It throws curveballs at you, and life is rarely fair.

The Descendants is greatly aided by a number of fantastic acting performances. Led by George Clooney, who faithfully portrays a character trying to find meaning at the center of life’s problems, the cast includes several young actors who have eagerly risen to the challenge.

Shailene Woodley is one such standout. As Matt’s daughter, Alex, we first see her as a young, party-addicted child who was sent away to boarding school to learn about how to respect authority. As seems to be the case with boarding schools, this lesson never sunk in, and Alex refuses to forgive her mother even on her death bed.

As with every other character in the story, Alex has understandable reasons behind her emotions, and these reasons will be unraveled as the plot proceeds. The movie, like life, is enjoyably unpredictable, and it keeps audiences guessing throughout.

The Descendents is missing the final extra spark that would have made it a perfect movie. I couldn’t quite place my finger on it, but I felt that it proceeded a little too slowly at times. Although I love the scenery of Hawaii (who doesn’t?), there may have been a few too many lingering shots of palm trees.

None of this distracts from the fact that The Descendants is a fantastic film. It’s one of the best movies of the year, and leaves a powerful impression on the importance of love, family, work, and achieving the right balance between all three – even in the face of adversity.

While other movies try to impart lessons like this, none of them do it with as much subtlety and authenticity as The Descendents. Whether you watch it for the beautiful scenery, the powerful characters, or the captivating storyline, The Descendents is a movie that deserves to be seen.

4.5 stars out of 5