First Hit: Very good acting, especially by George Clooney, but the link to the title is weak.
The Descendants are his relatives and the history of Matt King’s (played by George Clooney) family in Hawaii.
King is a lawyer and sole trustee for the family’s estate, which over the years has been broken apart. There is one huge parcel left and the family members (cousins, nieces, and others) are tossed as to what to do with this property. Some want it preserved and others want it sold for development.
Selling it has the benefit of making almost everyone rich even though most of them were rich enough but squandered their money already. However, storyline is not what this film is about.
What this film is about is how a man navigates a path through making major decisions honorably and all within a 1 month period of time. During the negotiations for the possible sale of this land King’s wife Elizabeth (played by Patricia Hastie) is in the hospital in a coma from a boating accident.
Matt and his wife had lost their path together and therefore there is regret. Their older daughter Alexandra (played by Shailene Woodley) is in a$35K a year school for girls that have drug problems and are in emotional trouble.
Their younger daughter Scottie (played by Amara Miller) has wild ideas and is difficult to handle. The story isn’t about “The Descendants”, it is about dealing with the real estate transaction and his extended family, his wife dying, discovering his wife was having an affair prior to the boating accident, his older daughter and how to help her on her path of discovery to a fuller life, and his younger daughter and how to bring her up.
Clooney is at the top of his game. His subtle expressions of pain, confusion, anger and sadness are top notch. Woodley is wonderful as the older daughter. The intensity and deep pain of catching her mom in an affair and having to share this with her father was extraordinary. Miller as the younger daughter brought the right level of cuteness and abandon required for the role. Nick Krause as Sid and Alexandra’s friend was perfect as the smart and smart-alecky boy who pushed the film along in a unique way. Beau Bridges as Matt’s cousin Hugh who wants the sale to happen was great to see again. Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon wrote a strong screen play that wasn’t afraid to accurately bring up strong situations (like Sid’s laughing at an old persons lost memory). However I’m wondering what the film would have been like without the real estate sale. It seemed like an also ran of the plot but also an odd focal point. Payne also directed this film and he got great performances out of all the characters.
Overall: This was an actor’s film and they were up to the challenge.