One of the unique things about the film The Descendants is that it takes place in Hawaii. This unique setting is not an add on (as in...the story has to take place somewhere, and we kind of want to have a tropical beach climate, how about Hawaii. Instead, Hawaii is a part of the story, and placing the film somewhere else takes away not only from the plot, but also the general texture ingrained deep in the film.
I was trying to think of other films that take place in Hawaii, and the list of films is limited. You have your world WWII Pearl Harbor stories (new and old, including Pearl Harbor, In Harms Way and From Here to Eternity) and tropical comedies (50 First Dates, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Just Go With It). And of course, there is tropical adventure which take advantage of the secluded setting (Six Days Seven Nights). Plus, there's a Hawaiian kids film (Lilo & Stitch), surf films (Blue Crush), and potentially the worst film of last decade The Big Bounce.
And how can I forget in the list of films the film Hawaii based on the James Michener book.
And so, in thanking about the list of films, The Descendants is unique in the fact that it's a contemporary drama - no surfing, no airplanes bombing military bases, and no Romantic beach flings.
And I think it's a detail like this that makes a film like The Descendants stick out - it's not the only thing, but I think it's something worth appreciating in this film.