Outside of his own grief, he realizes his responsibility as a father — to remain calm and strong in front of his two daughters. The only problem is he’s never been that. His relationship with his children do not appear scarred or non-existent, only distant. As King describes it, his family is like Hawaii — an archipelago, a collection that are separate, and yet together.
So thus is the journey of The Descendants. The story is not about the story — who dies or who cries or any other plot summary mumbo jumbo. The story is about a nuclear family dealing with the very complicated process of impending death and its grief. But don’t let the tragic moments pull you away. This film is as much comedy as it is drama. That’s the magic and skill of what director Alexander Payne and Clooney do here — collaboratively and subtly creating a believable atmosphere where tears are superseded by laughter until they are once again superseded by tears.
While the supporting cast is commendable (Shailene Woodley particularly stands out), Clooney is the meat of this picture. He’s the reason we care. And although all signs point to him being a lousy husband and father prior to the opening credits, Clooney makes him pathetically forgivable. Granted — he’s played a pathetically forgivable loner before. But do not be mistaken. Matt King is not Ryan Bingham. Most of us are not stuck in between airports. Most of us are stuck in between tragic moments and comedic moments, with only our family to help pull us through. And it is through this veil of authenticity that Clooney may not only locked up a Best Actor nomination, but may have also given the best performance of his career.