Life and 100 Films – Charlie’s Film Review of The Descendants

The Descendants is a dramedy film directed by Alexander Payne, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  The film stars George Clooney, Shailene Woodley (yes, the girl from The Secret Life of the American Teenager), Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, and Beau Bridges.  The film has been generating a lot of amazing buzz as of late with the award season under way.  It has been on countless top ten lists for the best films of 2011, and George Clooney and the film itself have already taken home the Golden Globe, along with nominations for Shailene Woodley and Alexander Payne.  With the Academy Awards right around the corner, you can expect these two to be big players, and Clooney is basically a guaranteed lock for the win.

As you can imagine, the acting is superb in this film, and the characters are the central part of this story.  Matt King (George Clooney) is a real estate lawyer and the sole trustee in a family trust that controls 25,000 acres of virgin land on the island of Kaua’i.  Due to antitrust laws the trust will expire in seven years, so the King family has decided to sell the land to a Kaua’i native for development.  Days before Matt and his family members (who are mainly his cousins) are ready to formally endorse the deal, a tragic jet ski accident renders Matt’s wife, Elizabeth, comatose.

Matt and Elizabeth have two daughters: 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and 17-year-old Alex (Shailene Woodley).  Matt is a very absent parent, referring to himself as the “backup” of the two parents.  With Elizabeth in a coma, he is forced to deal with the family issues he neglected for so long, namely Alex’s frequent trips to boarding school to get away from the family and her substance and alcohol abuse.   Additionally, Scottie is beginning to travel down the same path as her sister, as she is acting out in school.

Matt learns that Elizabeth will never awaken from her coma, and that she is in a persistent vegetative state.  Therefore, under the terms of her living will she must be disconnected shortly from life support.  He tells Alex, but not Scottie, that Elizabeth will not recover and must be allowed to die.  Although she is heartbroken, Alex is torn by her emotions as she and her mother were fighting before the accident.  She finally admits to her father that Elizabeth had been cheating on him at the time of the accident.  Matt confronts two family friends, Kai and Mark, and learns that Elizabeth’s lover is Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard).

Those are the basics of the story without telling you the whole thing.  Just trust me in saying that this is one of the best films I have seen in a long time.  I can’t say enough about how much I loved the performances given to us by George Clooney, Shailene Woodley (have I mentioned how much I love her name?), and my personal favorite, Nick Krause’s performance as Sid, who goes along for the journey with the King family and is Alex’s “man friend.” The comic relief and comedic timing that he brings to the film is HILARIOUS! Clooney gives a great performance as usual, but I think this may be the best of his career, as he plays a very relatable character that deals with “real world issues”.  I was the most amazed however by Shailene’s performance, as she was splendidly terrific and showed that she has real acting chops and a very bright future ahead of her.

YOU NEED TO SEE THIS FILM.  Everything about it is brilliant, and it’s definitely on my list of top films of 2011! And one final thing that I forgot to mention, it also has one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard in my life!

5 out of 5 Stars

The Descendants (2011)
20th Century Fox
R, 115 Minutes