As a general rule, I think it's easier if you watch the movie version of any movie-book combination first. That way you're not disappointed at the changes that are made and you can simply watch the movie as a movie. I set this general rule after being crushed by the movie version of The English Patient--completely unacceptable.
Anyway: The Descendents is a family drama about the King family in the midst of some major decisions. It's a Hawaii movie about people who actually live in Hawaii with all that a normal life involves: family, conflict, tough decisions, small triumphs, the possibility of error. I don't want to give away too much because if you choose either the book or the movie, I think you'll enjoy it a great deal if you let it unfold around you and don't know what to expect. I know the chances that you don't know what the plot is are slim, but still. I thought I'd give you the option.
I liked the movie a lot. I didn't love it, but I liked it. I thought the two girls playing the daughters were particularly terrific, not that I have any problems with George Clooney. Nope. No problem at all. I also loved seeing Robert Forster as Clooney's character's father-in-law, though I wish I could see him cast as Clooney's father in some movie or another; they look like they could be father and son. There were a few moments when I felt like they were trying too hard for the Big Moment, but overall I thought the performances were tender and touching.
I loved the novel. Written by Kaui Hart Hemmings, the novel is told entirely from the point-of-view of the father, Matt King. The movie stayed quite true to the novel, though there were some understandable changes in details and nuance; the younger daughter, for example, wears a T-shirt that says "Mrs. Clooney" which never made it to the screen.
One thing I appreciated about the novel is its simplicity in the telling. It doesn't work hard to be a Literary Novel with a Capital L. The language is straightforward, clean, and lovely. And the language makes sense for the narrator himself: decent, confused, intelligent but not academic, not terribly good at emotion, and a devoted father.
Here's an example of what I mean, as the narrator describes carrying his drunk teenage daughter to bed:
She is so heavy, her limbs seemingly drenched. I strain to get her to her room. I could stop and let her sleep on the sofa in the den, but I want her to sleep in her old bed, which used to be my bed, and part of me enjoys carrying her, the way she's curled into my chest like a baby.The most complicated and non-literal word in that paragraph is "drenched," but it's still so beautiful.
If you're going to do one or the other, I suggest reading the book, but truly, both are worth your time. Enjoy.