The Descendants

My holiday movie marathon continues. I’ve had some varied experiences: a remake of a foreign thriller, a British period-piece/crime fighting buddy movie, and now, an Oscar front-running drama with a famous American actor. I won’t rank them or compare them, that wouldn’t be right.

Okay, maybe I will. Suffice it to say, I’ve really enjoyed all of them. From an emotional standpoint, this one, The Descendants, prompted the widest range of emotions. I was happy and sad. I was excited and bored. I laughed and scowled. In the end, it was a rewarding experience and I’m on board with any Oscar accolades this thing gets. Additionally, as you know, I’m a fan of family carnage, which it had going for it.

Clooney plays Matt King, a Hawaiian guy who’s family secrets get bared when his wife is severely injured in a boating accident. He, along with his two tempestuous daughters and his daughter’s friend Sid, sort through the aftermath of his wife’s accident. At the same time, Matt has to deal with the disposition of 150 acres of prime Hawaiian real estate that his family has owned forever, and for which he’s the trustee.

** PLOT KILLERS FOLLOW **

Art should illuminate.

At some point in your life you’re probably going to have to sift through the wreckage of some tragedy. It could be something related to your family, your job, your friends, whatever. It could be partly your fault, all your fault, or none of your fault at all. Who knows. You won’t have any control over the details anyhow. But you can control how you react (you’ve probably heard this advice before, I just saw it the other day in some quote).

We follow Matt, his family, and his friends around for a few days and see how they react to his wife’s imminent death (she’s coming off life support soon). Actually, we follow mostly Matt. Through the course of the movie he runs through a bunch of emotions and sometimes reacts without thinking or by thinking of himself first. But in the end, he handles himself with grace and puts his feelings aside to help everyone else deal with this tragedy.

He’s a flawed person. He works long hours, is out of touch with his kids, and can’t express himself very well. But you’re pulling for him. Near the end there’s a moment where his father-in-law accuses him of being at fault for his wife’s death, which you know isn’t true. Your initial inclination is to want Matt to stand up for himself and shout back. He doesn’t. He shows restraint. He reacts the right way.

And it’s a good kind of restraint. It’s not the, “I’m keeping this bottled up inside until I blow my stack” type of restraint. He just knows the right thing to do and he does it, that’s it. And in the end, he gets rewarded with a modicum of closure.

Heavy stuff, I know, but it didn’t feel that heavy. I never really got choked up because there are so many humorous and lighter moments sprinkled in. It’s really a great movie. Just a darn good flick.