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Still shot from the movie: The Descendants.

The Descendants

Matt King's (George Clooney) life unravels after his wife (Patricia Hastie) is seriously injured in a boating accident off the Hawaiian Islands. While attempting to connect with his daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller), the distracted father and husband has to face some painful truths about the relationships he has been neglecting. Get the movie review and more. »

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Overall: C+ 2.5
Violence: B
Sexual Content: C
Language: D
Drugs/Alcohol: C
Run Time: 115
Theater Release: 18 Nov 2011
Video Release: 13 Mar 2012
MPAA Rating: R
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Matt King’s (George Clooney) life may look like paradise. The busy lawyer living in Hawaii is married to a beautiful woman, the father of two daughters, a descendant of a prominent family that owns billions of dollars worth of land, and the controlling trustee of the wealthy estate. Perhaps there was a time when Matt may have thought so too. But it is not today.

Today is the twenty-third one he has spent sitting by his unconscious wife (Patricia Hastie), wondering if she will ever recover from the damaging head injury she sustained during a boating accident. Pulled away from the office and forced to face the possibility of life without her, Matt wonders what he will do. He is especially concerned about his children: one a head-strong, foul-mouthed teen (Shailene Woodley) with a partying problem, the other (Amara Miller) a precocious ten-year-old that enjoys shocking her peers with sexual banter and photos she has taken of her ailing mother.

Although all this seems bad, things are about to get worse. First, Matt is informed that Elizabeth will never wake up, and because of her living will the doctors have a legal obligation to remove her from life support. Second, his relatives (one played by Beau Bridges) are anxious for him to get back to work settling a real estate deal that will make them all multi-millionaires. And finally, his oldest daughter Alex spitefully confesses to knowing her mom was having an affair.

This last item is news for Matt, whose grief is suddenly swallowed up in an obsession to find his wife’s lover and… well, he’s not sure. All he knows is he can’t ask Elizabeth about it and any call to action seems better than waiting by her hospital bed.

This dysfunctional family drama, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, offers some interesting character studies: A methodical man who loses all control of his life, a rebellious adolescent landed with grown-up responsibilities, a neglected child demanding attention, a tag-along teen (Nick Krause) who may not be as dumb as he appears, and a script that pivots around a woman who never utters a word. Setting the story on sun sundrenched beaches also makes a great juxtaposition for the sorrow each is experiencing. Yet, what do they learn? What does the audience learn from them?

While answers may not be in abundance, sexual expletives, crude comments and references to substance abuse are. The prevalent discussions of death and adultery don’t make the film a vacation destination either. Yet older viewers, who are willing to overlook the language, may find amidst this pensive feast some serious food for thought.

The Descendants is rated R: for language including some sexual references.

Director: Alexander Payne
Cast: George Clooney, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard
Studio: 2011 Fox Searchlight Pictures
Website: Official site for The Descendants.

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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