I’m going to admit to something that has rarely happened to me in the movie theaters. I was almost brought to tears by The Descendants. I had to walk out during the showing for a few seconds to compose myself. It came out of nowhere for me. One second, I’m laughing at something and in the next scene I was so moved I got choked up. That’s the kind of movie The Descendants is. It’s a movie about life and the surprises that can change everything in an instant.
When The Descendants begins we are brought up to speed very quickly via voice over by George Clooney’s Hawaiian patriarch, Matt King. Matt is a successful lawyer in what he calls “paradise on earth”. Matt is also a family man in a very dysfunctional family. His wife has just had an accident and is in a coma. His two daughter’s are a handful. The young ones a little brat and the other daughter’s in boarding school. On top of all of this, Matt is in charge of a huge land sale involving acres of untouched real estate on a beautiful part of the islands. It’s a piece of land that’s been in Matt’s family for generations and his huge extended family is about to be richer than they’ve ever been in a few days when Matt finishes the sale. The Descendants follows Matt and his family during the days leading up to the sale as they discover things about their lives that they knew nothing about. What Matt thought of as regular family problems weren’t what they appeared to be and he slowly releases that his wife was hiding another life from him and his family before her accident.
It’s a moving and funny story about what it means to be a good man and a good father. I think of this movie as a “chick flick” for men. The Descendants director, Alexander Payne (Sideways, About Schmidt), is known for making movies about men facing big changes in their lives. In The Descendants, we see what Matt goes through in every painful detail. When he starts to put the pieces of the puzzle that was his life together, you can see every emotion on his face. The pain at seeing his wife so helpless and then the hurt when he realizes what’s been going on. It’s a great performance by Clooney and I really hope he gets some recognition for this role.
This is one of the best movies of the year. Highly recommended.