The Descendants is a sad movie, but not a desponding one.
The good. The scenario is very realistic. All the actions and reactions of the characters as well as their emotional state and the resulting dialogs are a good reflection of reality. All the personas have great depth and consistency. There are very nice twists and turns in the story that will surprise you.
The actors. A well chosen cast. George Clooney give us a very good interpretation of a guy who really wants to pick things up. Shailene Woodley is just right as the strong minded daughter of a strong minded woman. Amara Miller gives us a bit of youthful antics to alleviate things. Nick Krause is the unwilling toned down comic relief as the Hawaiian bum. Robert Forster is the perfect sour grand-father. And finally, Matthew Lillard and Judy Greer are surprisingly good in their small supporting role.
The bad. The Hawaiian music, I can't stand it. It's appropriate though, but it's not for me. Maybe it's for you.
The ugly. Nothing really. It's a well made movie.
The result. A slow pace movie with a nice realistic feel to it, plenty of emotions, and family issues. No great dramatic upheaval, no action, just straight story telling with a few surprises.