The Descendants is a 2011 dramedy film, directed by Alexander Payne and based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings. The film stars George Clooney as a Hawaii based lawyer. When his wife is in a boating accident and is left in a coma, he has to care for his daughters on his own, despite knowing little about them, while fighting a breakdown when he's told his wife's living will demands she be taken off life support. When one of his daughters reveals that his wife was cheating on him, he begins a journey with his daughters (and one of his daughter's 'friends') to find the man, partially to confront him and partially to tell him he should come say goodbye before she dies.The film is Alexander Payne's first film since 2004's Sideways and has been extremely well received by critics, with particular praise given to Clooney's performance and the Oscar-winning screenplay (co-written by Jim Rash, who knew?).
The film provides examples of:
Academy Award: It won Best Adapted Screenplay at the 84th Academy Awards. Much like Alexander Payne's last film.
Adaptation Name Change: Matt's wife's name was originally Joanie in the novel. It was changed to Elizabeth in the film.
Aloha Hawaii: Played with; although there's lots of beautiful scenery (it's still Hawaii), it mainly focuses on the people who actually live there, for whom life isn't always like what the tourists would expect.
Beware the Nice Ones: Cousin Hugh is a friendly and nice guy (he's played by Beau Bridges). He also makes it clear that if Matt doesn't sell the land, he will come after him legally. Matt even Lampshades this in his narration:
Don't be fooled. In Hawaii some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen.
Blatant Lies: Several times people comment that they're sure that Elizabeth will pull through and Matt agrees even though he's been told she's being taken off life support and will die soon.
Brutal Honesty: Matt asks Brian if he's ever been in Matt's bedroom during the affair with Elizabeth. When Matt says he has once, Matt tells him he should've lied. Brian then corrects himself: "Alright, twice."
When annoyed about Elizabeth's friend justifying the affair, Matt harshly tells her that Elizabeth is not going to wake up, so there's no need to keep defending her, reducing her to tears.
Calling Your Attacks: Elizabeth's father when Sid laughs at his wife's dementia: "I'm going to hit you." *punch*
Casting Gag: A running joke during the early parts of the book is Matt expressing bewilderment at Scottie's choice of t-shirts. One of which simply features the words "Mrs Clooney".
Captain Obvious: When Elizabeth's friend points out Matt's feeling angry about learning of Elizabeth's affair, he snarks, "You have a very keen sense of observation."
A weird example. Matt isn't intentionally cruel or unfeeling, he just literally has no idea how to connect with his kids.
Sid, who finds Matt's mother-in-law's dementia quite hilarious, and gets a punch in the face for the trouble. He's also not malicious, however — just very, very stupid.
In Sid's "defense," he was possibly very stoned at the time (he seems to sober up as the film progresses).
Converse with the Unconscious: Matt encourages lots of people to visit and speak to Elizabeth while she is in the hospital, and before bringing in the kids he has one last fight with her. Played with in that Matt already knows for some time that Elizabeth's condition will not improve, and in fact will only decline as time passes, so her death is inevitable. He still publicly speaks in hopeful terms for most of the movie, mostly to avoid awkward conversations.
Demoted to Extra: Scottie had a somewhat larger role in the novel (she confronts Troy at the club, and has several moments of acting out by hurting herself) than the film.
Dude, Not Funny!: In-Universe example. Sid laughs uncontrollably at Elizabeth's mother's dementia. Her father eventually punches him in the face.
A subversion is when Matt calls Sid a retard, and Sid, seemingly outraged, retorts that his brother is mentally disabled. Turns out Sid is just joking.
Dumbass Has a Point: Sid tells Matt not to use retarded in a derogatory fashion. He claims to have a mentally-challenged brother (although he was lying) but he's still right.
Dysfunction Junction: Matt is a workaholic who can't connect with his kids; Elizabeth, before her accident, cheated on Matt, was a self-absorbed adrenaline junkie (and was implied to have a lot of other problems as well); Alex drinks, used to do drugs and really gets around, and has issues believing her parents, or at least her mother, don't care about her; and Scottie is involved in (at least mild) cyberbullying, has a friend who throws parties involving porn videos, and shows pictures of her comatose mother to her class.
From the Mouths of Babes: Thanks to being around Alex so much, little Scottie has an impressionable potty mouth herself.
Scottie: She's a TWAT! TWAT! TWAT! TWAT! TWAT! TWAT!
Reina (a minor character in both the movie and novel and Scottie's friend) is a fountain of this trope, and as much or more of where Scottie gets it from as Alex.
Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: Played with; Matt angrily shouts down one of his wife's friends when she tries to justify the affair with the "she was lonely" excuse, and while it's suggested she did have sympathetic motives to some degree it's also made clear that her actions were still selfish and damaging to her family.
Hidden Depths: Alex comes off as a typical bratty, rebellious daughter for the first half-hour, with little care to her mother's plight. Then we learn it's because she caught her mother sleeping with another man and was disgusted at how her mother threw the family away while denying the whole thing.
Hypocritical Humor: Matt tells Alex to watch her language, then seconds later calls Sid a "little fuck".
Idle Rich: Matt and his family are descended from the first white land owners of Hawaii. While Matt has left almost all of his money in a trust, the rest of his family are deep in debt and are dead set on selling the rest of the land to pay off their debts. By the end Matt has changed his mind.
Match Cut: Shots of the back of George Clooney's head at the big family meeting and at his wife's sickbed.
Not So Stoic: Matt is usually very calm. It makes the moments where he finally breaks all the more noticeable.
Oh, Crap: Brian damn near shits himself when finally confronted by Matt and Alex.
Parents as People: Matt is a workaholic who is struggling to connect with his children. Elizabeth was a self-absorbed adrenaline junkie who cheated on her husband and her refusal to admit the affair caused problems with her oldest daughter.
Please Wake Up: Matt does this in voiceover to his wife, silently promising her that he'll do everything for her if she'll just wake up.
Scenery Porn: Even the most basic shots are gorgeous to look at. It is Hawaii after all. (Subverted in the opening montage, with various shots of what living in Hawaii can look like.)
Shout-Out: At the end the family watches March of the Penguins together. Bonus: the scene that they are watching features Morgan Freeman narrating about how Antarctica was once a tropical paradise, and slowly moved south and became covered in ice as the tectonic plates shifted. Matt and his kids live in the tropical paradise of Hawaii. Nothing lasts forever...
Matt: So what, you're gonna go spouting cliches about women now? Nothing's ever a woman's fault.
Your Cheating Heart: Elizabeth was cheating on her husband when she had her accident with a man who himself was married. She seems to have no remorse on what she's doing to either spouses though Matt points out the marrige was basically almost dead, and wants the man to leave his wife while he is reluctant to do so. It's implied he has a much better relationship with his wife than Matt and Elizabeth did.