Today I saw The Descendants, starring George Clooney and Shailene Woodley.
Matt (Clooney) is a distant dad, married to his work. He has a tough time relating to his daughters, and an even tougher time relating to his wife in the midst of a huge property sale. The land in question has been in his family for several generations and he is tasked with acting as the trustee of that land on behalf of several cousins.
When his wife Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) ends up in a coma following a boating accident, Matt's life is turned upside down. Aside from his grief, his youngest daughter, Scottie (Amara Miller), is spiraling out of control, while his eldest daughter, Alexandra, may have a drug (or at least drinking) problem. He does the best he can under the circumstances.
Alexandra soon reveals a family secret that devastates Matt further. This leads to a witch hunt field trip and further distress for all involved.
Oh, and all of this happens in beautiful, paradise-like Hawaii (which they do a very good job of normalizing in this context).
Doesn't sound like fun? Well, no—but the characters are so well-written, and the actors are so great in their roles that it is actually a very pleasurable film to watch. Satisfying if not happy; but witty all the same.
A small but key role is nailed by the oozing-with-charisma Matthew Lillard, who is perfectly cast as an ambitious realtor. Also charming is the fantastic Judy Greer, who plays his wife.
Clooney will certainly be leading the Oscar race for his understated, powerful work in the film, and I for one won't be sorry if he prevails.
Though it may be a tough story to see (especially if you've had to decide whether or not to leave a loved one on life support) it is a genius exploration of family dynamics as they often play out in real life: complicated, loving, painful and revealing all at once.