The Descendants: The Best Movie About Divorce That Isn't About Divorce

There are some fine films out there, all about divorce. My all time favorite, of course, is Heartburn, based upon the novel by my personal heroine, Nora Ephron. And every divorced woman is supposed to gobble up Eat, Pray, Love. I liked it, but didn't really relate to it so much. I mean, yeah, it would have been oh so lovely to take off on a whirlwind binge-meditate-hump vacay after being dumped but I don't think the kids would have approved.

My least favorite movie about divorce? Stepmom. Creepy old Ed Harris is the husband in that one, who is in a relationship with the much-younger Julia Roberts. Forever sexy Susan Sarandon plays the first wife, and although I thought this one was watchable, it planted a sick seed in my hypochondriac mind...now, whenever I diagnose myself with something terminal I go back to the scene where creepy Ed goes to visit cancer-ridden Susan and gifts her with a Christmas tree. And then gets ready to leave (again) to go celebrate Christmas with leggy Julia. In the movie, Susan is all beatific and dying and just sits there, accepting the tree and her ex and the cancer, and smiles. I hated that scene. I wanted to see her get up, and jam the tree up Ed's stereotypical dirty old man ass. And I find myself wondering, if I were dying, would Big Daddy come bring me a tree? Extend the evergreen olive branch, tying up that last loose end? Because I think I know what I'd do with it if he did.

I might have some unresolved issues. Sorry about that. Where was I? Ah...THE DESCENDANTS.

Have you seen The Descendants? It's one of my favorite movies. I had sworn off of George Clooney, completely, and then one bored night sat on my couch and watched it. I ended up bawling, and head over heels back in like with not only Clooney, but Hawaii, with the music, the houses...all of it! It's a keeper.

Cliff notes plot summary:

With his wife Elizabeth on life support after a boating accident, Hawaiian land baron Matt King takes his daughters on a trip from Oahu to Kauai to confront the man who was having an affair with Elizabeth before her misfortune.

Filled to the brim with metaphors and symbolism, this movie speaks to so many of us. And as a bonus, it gives us some of the best lines, ever:

"In Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen."

Clooney's character, Matt King: "Nothing 'just happens'."
Matthew Lillard's character, Brian Speer: "Everything 'just happens'."

"What is it that makes the women in my life want to destroy themselves?"

"You give your children enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing."

"I'm the backup parent. The understudy."

"That was unreal. I mean, how often do old people just haul off and fucking coldcock you like that?"

"Shut up, you motherless whore!"

It's like an alphabet tree filled with ripe words, this movie. I haven't read the book, which was written by Kaui Hart Hemmings, but it's on my wish list and I can only imagine the word-smorgasbord it must be.

Of course, since I still see everything through divorce-tinted glasses, I found myself in Clooney's character's shoes. Even though it's not a film about divorce, it captures so many of the feelings a traumatic split evokes: the abandonment, the shock, needing closure with "the other", the helplessness one feels when faced with raising kids solo...I could go on and on.

Most of all, I felt his sadness. His awful, deep, angry, grieving sadness. This movie brought me back to a dark place, and even though it makes me sound like some sort of masochist, I think it's okay to revisit that place once in while. Just to know you've survived.

I also found myself fantasizing a little morbid fantasy scenario. What if Big Daddy had died unexpectedly, maybe crashed his stupid little car, before he worked up the courage to leave me? What would life had been like, then? For me, for the kids? Would I have done what Clooney's character does? Would I have ever found out about the lies, the cheating, the Other Woman? Or would all of it, all of the dishonesty and the betrayal...would it have died along with him? File that one under "Thoughts You Probably Shouldn't Admit Having".

I've watched this movie a least half a dozen times since that first bored night. It's one of the very few films I can watch over and over without losing interest in the middle. Yep, it's right up there with Shawshank Redemption, Mean Girls, and The Family Stone. Are you rolling your eyes at Mean Girls? That's okay.

When I watch The Descendants I'm transported into another time. Another place, another dysfunctional family. I love the barefooted aspect of it, how nobody wears anything on their feet except maybe flip flops. I guess living in a land that is inhospitably cold and harsh, where you have to wear thick fuzzy socks for six months out of every year has affected me more than I know. I start planning a make-believe trip to Hawaii, where I introduce my kids to the ocean and the volcanoes.

I love the cast. It's utterly perfect. Bonus points for having one of my girl crushes, Judy Greer, in it, as the unsuspecting wife of the Other Man. The kid who plays the eldest daughter's stoner boyfriend, Sid, provides most of the much needed humor and surprisingly, a good bit of the heart. Matthew Lillard, who plays the Other Man, is always good in his lanky, Shaggy way. The daughters, played by Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller, do a wonderful job as the angsty teen and the struggling prepubescent, respectively. And Hawaii? It's hard to screw that up. I've only been there once, on a three-day layover back in my flight attendant days. I fell in love with it, opened up a Liberty House store charge account and got the worst sunburn of my life. On the flight home I was serving up cans of pop with blisters the size of silver dollars dotting my arms. That was fun.

And Clooney? Even if you're not a fan, he won't annoy you. I was impressed with this keyed-down version. Not the cocky, jutting-jawed, "I could eat myself up with a spoon and so could you" sort of performance here. He's good and believable.

One of the benchmarks of a good book or movie or poem or song, is if it makes you think. This one did that, in spades. And that's why I love it. If you haven't watched it, and I'm talking to you, my divorced friends, I highly recommend that you do so. P.S. it pairs well with a nice pinot noir. I had Cupcake and it was delicious with both the laughter and the tears. Yes, laughter...this movie is also bitingly funny. Guffaw out loud funny, even.

While looking up information on the novel "The Descendants", I came across a quote that pretty much sums it up for me. Although I know that the author of the book, and the people who made the movie, didn't set out to speak to strong, weepy divorced ladies like me, this got me right in the gut:

"My wife's not coming back, my wife did not love me, and I am in charge now."

For all of you who are, like me, in charge now...I highly recommend this movie. And Mean Girls, but that's another story for another time.

Aloha, friends.


  1. Great review! I definitely want to see it.

    1. I think you'd like it, Nina. It's a smart movie :)

  2. I love Mean Girls. The pastor at my church has done teen conference based on a study of the movie Mean Girls. I don't think you need to apologize for that one.

    1. It's part of the Tina Fey dream collection, girl. I love it. No apologies...but I think people don't understand what a good movie it really is! I lost my copy of it, so when I saw it on sale at Target for $5.00 I couldn't resist. We may need to have a Mean Girls gathering, no?

  3. Thank you for the recommendation - I'll try to catch it over the holiday! Merry Christmas!

    1. Let me know what you think, if you see it! Thanks for reading, Missy. Merry Christmas to you, too :)

  4. I love, love, love the way you write!!

  5. Well, okay. You might have convinced me to watch it. I LOVED the book sooooooo much, I just couldn't bear to watch the movie and have all of it ruined for me. Please read the book soon!

    1. You're the first person I know who's read it! Glad to hear you loved it. I got a hand-me-down Kindle for Christmas...maybe I need to buy the book.

  6. Speaking of thoughts one probably shouldn't admit thinking....
    A (previously close, but no longer) friend once said to me, "Death is much better than divorce. At least with death, those still alive have a chance for closure and healing." At the time, I thought he was cruel and just angry at his ex-wife. I was also 21, VERY recently divorced, and fourteen years from the position of "twice divorced with two young sons who hear nothing from either of their respective biological fathers" ... a position I'm in now and into which we've all clunkily settled over the past five years.

    I've thought a few times... although I would never wish death on anyone (even the two people who've hurt and psychologically damaged my children repeatedly by ignoring their role as fathers) that maybe my old friend had a point.

    In death, my sons' fathers would still fulfill their childrens' needs to have a hero figure, a father who deserves the respect and awe of an admiring son. Their gilded thrones would still be polished and pristine and my sons would have only the imagined personas of their fathers onto which they could hold. The pain of their loss would ease and the hero status of each of their fathers would remain intact.

    As it is, there is no closure. There is heartache and pain... questions and confusion. Neither of them (now 15 and 10 years old) ever receive explanations of why their fathers choose to have nothing to do with them. The oldest's father has another son, age 2, on whom he dotes. The youngest's father has five other (older) children, some of whom he maintains contact with while others he doesn't.

    In both situations, there are no phone calls, no emails, no texts... not even to inquire as to their well-being. And I'm here, every day, fielding the questions as to why... knowing my boys, in some way, blame themselves for their fathers CHOOSING to not be in their lives.

    So, maybe we shouldn't think "what if"... but, when the reality is hurtful and damaging to those we hold most dear, I think the only difference in us and others is that we actually admit having the thoughts most people would never claim.

    1. Oh Laura. Thank you for sharing this. And amen. I'm "lucky" to some extent, because their dad still has them over for Christmas, and when I ask, will pitch in with rides here and there. But there's never any of that "Dad and son" stuff. There's no teaching them how to shave or talking to them about sex or just plain giving them a good, decent, CONSTANT role model.

      I like what you said about closure. I have a friend who lost her husband to suicide, and one who lost her husband due to a health condition. My heart breaks for each of them, but at the same time, I find myself almost envious of having that closure, having that crappy door between the "what ifs" and "why" closed.

      Thank you, again, for opening up like this and for so beautifully and eloquently describing this very unique pain.

      I'm so glad you stopped by <3


  7. You should also watch the movie Intersection with Richard Gere.

    1. Anon, I know I saw that a long time ago...but sounds like I need to see it again! Off to check Netflix and Amazon!

  8. I've got this taped (DVR'd, as the young people say) to watch tonight!

    1. So?? Did you watch? I am dying to hear what you think!


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