"We are not immune to life," says Matt King, referring to people who live in the seeming care-free tropical world of Hawaii.
DEMAND ON VIEWER: Mild
So describes the Hawaiian tone poem of The Descendants. "Tone poem" is literal — by it I refer to both the soundtrack that is a special highlight of the film, and the location-specific environment that feels organic and realistic, capturing a moment much like impressionistic painting or Debussey tone-poems.
King (Clooney) is the wealthy and genuine but relationship-starved man who must come to terms with where things actually are on the ground with his two daughters, now that his wife is hospitalized with a coma.
The way he must fine-tune his approach to his prickly daughters and ultimately make a decision about what kind of "descendants" they are going to be, is the contribution this film makes to understanding the human condition. He also confronts his own family ancestry, especially the assumptions they have about money and family land, in a really interesting character development of his own role as a descendant.
But by far the best thing about this film is—Shailene Woodley! As Alexandra King, she is pitch-perfect with the complex and mature adolescent emotions associated with her mother's affair and impending death. Ms. Woodley deserves recognition for her supporting role. Honorable mention to Nick Krause as the hilarious Sid. The levity he provides is a much-needed counterbalance to Clooney.
Oh, and George Clooney is pretty good too, though not half as convincing as a few dozen other actors could have been in the role. He blends the comic and tragic well, especially with his clumsy gait as he frantically runs to the neighbors. His depressed self-serious investigation of his wife's affair has the air of the pitifully ridiculous.
Solid story, but no Oscar here from Deeper Film. The story is a bit too average in its approach to the affair and the oh-so-typical contours of the expected fallout. But the way it deals with being more open to one's children as being capable mentally and emotionally of dealing with life, even at its most tragic and painful, is enriching and worth seeing.
Take a mini-vacation to Hawaii by seeing this film, and you'll certainly come out more edified as a person in the bargain, and you might even see your own descendants in a new light.