As rare as fresh, innovative material seems to be in an over-saturated, sugary-sweet, performance driven movie market, The Descendants- a gem of a film- seems to have been overlooked in this season's holiday market. Maybe it's because this film doesn't feature jingle bells or fat white guys sporting beards and red velvet suits. Maybe. But if that's what you're looking for this season, you're missing a delicately powerful film about forgiveness, love, family, and secrets. And what is Christmas without those four ingredients?
As The Descendants begins, the audience gets a long gander at Elizabeth King, the beautiful, adventurous wife of George Clooney's Matt King, as she water skis with her mouth open in laughter and her hair whipping around her face. She looks as happy as we see her for the rest of the film, because moments later she's in a coma at the hospital as her husband tells the audience that, before the accident, he was planning to change into the man she needed him to be. Matt has bigger problems than being the man his comatose wife wants him to be--- starting with his need to reconnect with his daughters. One of them is on the fast track to suspension--- from elementary school. The other is suspended from life. Matt's plan to get the girls together to see their dying mother goes awry when his oldest, Alexandra, hits Matt with the earth-shattering news that the woman he is willing out of her vegetative state was having an affair and planning to divorce him.
The affair isn't the big news. The divorce isn't, either. Not for the audience, anyway. The big news in this film is how a family of mixmatched oddballs pull together to give solace to Matt whose soul seems to be evaporating with his wife's chances of pulling through.
The real star of this movie isn't the obvious choice but The Secret Life of An American Teenager's Shailene Woodley. This film allows her to show depth and versatility that The Secret Life's script can't afford her. She gets to curse, tell off her dad, and also show compassion in a hopeless situation. She defines herself all over again in this film, and her star gets a little brighter with every scene. Her role is a college student torn by her love for her father, loyalty to the sanctity of her parents' marriage, and her want to care less like every other teenager. Through the gamut of emotions Woodley is expected to express, she comes out clean-- as though this role was effortless for her. And it helps since the film's subject matter won't allow it to be as easy.
Overall, I thought this film covered tough subjects in a funny, sometimes quirky, and relaxed manner. It's worth the ten bucks and worth the few tears you'll inevitably shed.