Metascore
84

Universal acclaim - based on 43 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 38 out of 43
  2. Negative: 0 out of 43
  1. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Nov 23, 2011
    100
    The Descendants would still be a splendid movie without him; with Clooney, it's one of 2011's very best.
  2. Reviewed by: Bill Goodykoontz
    Nov 22, 2011
    100
    It is particularly rewarding to see Clooney outside his comfort zone of self-composed cool in The Descendants, Alexander Payne's beautifully gentle, funny and moving film.
  3. Reviewed by: Ann Hornaday
    Nov 17, 2011
    100
    A pitch-perfect movie that threads a microscopically tiny needle between high comedy and devastating drama.
  4. Reviewed by: Joe Morgenstern
    Nov 17, 2011
    100
    Rarely has a contemporary movie taken in so much life and revealed it with such depth of feeling.
  5. Reviewed by: Steven Rea
    Nov 17, 2011
    100
    Clooney has never been better, subtler, more deeply rooted in a performance than he is in The Descendants. And he's funny, too.
  6. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Nov 16, 2011
    100
    What happens is that we get vested in the lives of these characters. That's rare in a lot of movies.
  7. Reviewed by: Owen Gleiberman
    Nov 16, 2011
    100
    Another beautifully chiseled piece of filmmaking - sharp, funny, generous, and moving.
  8. Reviewed by: Peter Rainer
    Nov 16, 2011
    100
    Clooney and Payne are coconspirators, too. They know that the story they are telling is too emotionally complicated to muck up with a lot of preening and artifice. They head right into the sad and crazymaking humor of the situation. This is a modest marvel of a movie.
  9. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Nov 16, 2011
    100
    It's one of the year's most pleasurable American movies.
  10. Reviewed by: Lou Lumenick
    Nov 16, 2011
    100
    Expertly mixing tears and laughs with the sort of alchemy not seen since "Terms of Endearment," this superbly written, directed, acted, and yes, Oscar-friendly movie perfectly captures the blackly comic insanity that can overtake a family forced to confront an impending death.
  11. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Nov 15, 2011
    100
    It's a precarious balance, but Payne blends wit and poignancy so artfully it feels like an exquisitely choreographed dance.
  12. Reviewed by: Peter Travers
    Nov 15, 2011
    100
    Payne's low-key approach only deepens the film's intimate power. Want a movie you can really connect with? The Descendants is damn near perfect.
  13. Reviewed by: A.O. Scott
    Nov 15, 2011
    100
    To call The Descendants perfect would be a kind of insult, a betrayal of its commitment to, and celebration of, human imperfection. Its flaws are impossible to distinguish from its pleasures.
  14. Reviewed by: Gail MacDonald
    Nov 13, 2011
    100
    Heartwarming, tragic and, at times, hilariously funny drama.
  15. Reviewed by: Todd McCarthy
    Oct 20, 2011
    100
    After a five-year wait since "Sideways," Alexander Payne has made his best film yet with The Descendants. Ostensibly a study of loss and coping with a tragic situation, this wonderfully nuanced look at a father and two daughters dealing with the imminent death of his wife and their mother turns the miraculous trick of possibly being even funnier than it is moving.
  16. Reviewed by: Pete Hammond
    Sep 14, 2011
    100
    The Descendants is that rare bird, moving, enlightening, funny and unapologetically human. It's one of the year's best pictures, one to savor and think about.
  17. Reviewed by: Shawn Levy
    Nov 23, 2011
    91
    There are ample opportunities for the film to soak in pathos, righteousness, farce, or pictorialism, and Payne manages to nod at those pitfalls without falling into them. In a way, it's just like Matt King's world: enviably plush but filled with the real pain of real life.
  18. Reviewed by: Eric Kohn
    Nov 14, 2011
    91
    The Descendants constantly hovers on the brink of a dark comedy. But it never takes the big plug. By treading carefully, Payne has created his warmest, most earnest work, if not his best.
  19. Reviewed by: Peter Debruge
    Oct 20, 2011
    90
    Nearly every detail sources directly back to Kaui Hart Hemmings' sensitively crafted novel, and yet, Payne's triumph is in striking the right tone -- and knowing what to leave unsaid.
  20. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Nov 23, 2011
    88
    All of Payne's films have been driven by the anger and frustration of his protagonists, but The Descendants is the first one in which sadness lurks behind every frame.
  21. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Nov 23, 2011
    88
    At times humorous, at times poignant, but always absorbing.
  22. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    Nov 22, 2011
    88
    At bottom, all Payne's films make us smile, often ruefully but hopefully.
  23. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    Nov 22, 2011
    88
    An Oscar-ready collaboration between a great director and a star at the peak of his powers, but at its heart is a message in a bottle reading: "Trapped in paradise. Please send help."
  24. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Nov 17, 2011
    88
    I can't think of another movie this year that made me laugh or weep harder for the whole lumpy business of being - the compromises and connections that get us through the day and somehow add up to entire lives.
  25. Reviewed by: James Berardinelli
    Nov 17, 2011
    88
    The two most moving scenes require extraordinary performances from supporting players...Forster is as deserving of a supporting actor nomination as anyone I have seen this year.
  26. Reviewed by: Jaime N. Christley
    Oct 17, 2011
    88
    In a development that seemed to begin in earnest with "Sideways," a large part of The Descendents seems to operate on a non-narrative level.
  27. Reviewed by: Dan Jolin
    Jan 23, 2012
    80
    A marvellous follow-up to 2004's "Sideways" - well worth the wait.
  28. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Nov 16, 2011
    80
    Payne's observational humor and attention to detail yield something emotionally epic. Everything from beachfront jogs to hospital confessions reveals layers of humanity and absurdity.
  29. Reviewed by: Keith Uhlich
    Nov 15, 2011
    80
    This is an exquisite portrait of a family navigating the wreckage imparted to them by one of their own.
  30. Reviewed by: Betsy Sharkey
    Nov 15, 2011
    80
    It makes The Descendants a tragedy infused with comedy and calls for a balancing act from filmmaker and star alike, a tightrope they navigate with nary a wobble.
  31. 80
    Payne is too acerbic - maybe too much of an asshole - to settle for easy humanism. But he's too smart a dramatist to settle for easy derision. Mockery and empathy seesaw, the balance precarious - and thrillingly so. It's the noblest kind of satire: cruel and yet, in the end, lacking the killing blow.
  32. Reviewed by: Anthony Lane
    Nov 14, 2011
    80
    In short, The Descendants is the latest exhibit in Payne's careful dissection of the beached male, which runs from Matthew Broderick's character in "Election" to Jack Nicholson's in "About Schmidt" and Paul Giamatti's in "Sideways."
  33. Reviewed by: Andrew O'Hehir
    Sep 14, 2011
    80
    The Descendants is gentle, witty, audience-friendly entertainment for grown-ups, with a great performance by one of our biggest screen stars.
  34. Reviewed by: Roger Moore
    Nov 21, 2011
    75
    The Descendants lets Payne show us the Other America and the Other Americans - little lives caught up in small but epic problems far away from the La La Land of Hollywood hype, sex and violence.
  35. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Nov 17, 2011
    75
    The movie itself is a worthy thing, too, but it's not as good as Clooney is here, which is to say, it's not great.
  36. Reviewed by: Noel Murray
    Nov 16, 2011
    75
    The movie suffers from backstory-heavy voiceover narration in its first half, followed by an excess of quirky laugh lines down the stretch, just when it seems to be finding a stronger rhythm. There's a shameless crowd-pleasing element to The Descendants that keeps its harder truths about family relationships at bay.
  37. Reviewed by: Kimberley Jones
    Nov 23, 2011
    67
    The Descendants is beautifully shot (by Phedon Papamichael) and compellingly performed, especially by its young stars, and it has moments of startling tenderness. If only it didn't feel phony to its bones.
  38. Reviewed by: Rex Reed
    Nov 16, 2011
    63
    The Descendants is a soap opera with Hawaiian shirts.
  39. Reviewed by: Stephanie Zacharek
    Nov 16, 2011
    55
    The Descendants is an ultra-polished picture in which every emotion we're supposed to feel has been cued up well in advance. There's nothing surprising or affecting about it. Not even Clooney, who works wonders with the occasional piece of dialogue, can save it.
  40. Reviewed by: Dana Stevens
    Nov 17, 2011
    50
    It's such a disappointment that The Descendants isn't a better movie than it is. In this soap opera disguised as a comedy, Payne, who was always a master at balancing sharp satire with an essential humanism, has traded his tart lemon center for a squishy marshmallow one.
  41. Reviewed by: J.R. Jones
    Nov 16, 2011
    50
    Alexander Payne has won an Oscar for best adapted screenplay (Sideways), but you'd never guess that from this clumsily written drama: characters keep explaining things that their listeners would already know, and the first couple reels are so thick with expository voice-over that you may think you're listening to a museum tour on a set of headphones.
  42. Reviewed by: J. Hoberman
    Nov 15, 2011
    50
    It left me cold. The pathos is as unearned as the protagonist's privilege.
  43. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Sep 14, 2011
    50
    I'm a notorious softie, and I found things to like about the film, most particularly Clooney's performance; but I remained untouched.
User Score
7.6

Generally favorable reviews- based on 385 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 82 out of 115
  2. Negative: 10 out of 115
  1. Jan 28, 2012
    8
    All performances in this movie were amazing, and the movie itself captures life with an uncommon grace. Funny, depressing, and moving, The Descendants is one of the year's best movies. Full Review »
  2. Nov 27, 2011
    3
    I like George Clooney. I really like Matthew Lillard. This movie just isn't much emotionally, spiritually or even artistically. There are some nuanced moments that work, a bit of Alexander Payne's trademark irony in scenes, sure. But this was a tough 2 hours to sit through. It's a depressing film about people struggling with little or no humanity. It doesn't have a pulse. The photography and production values are dreary and uninspired. George Clooney struggles with the Oscar clips, and comes off like a bloke(a likeable guy, but he really is just an aging good looking dude.) There are no great lines. It's actually super misogynistic about the youngest daughter, the 20 something daughter, the realtor's wife and the wife in the coma. Full Review »
  3. Dec 12, 2011
    5
    I didn't get it. It was a good story about a family in transition. The girls who played the daughters were pretty amazing. In the end though I just was not into the characters. It will probably win a lot of awards. It will again leave me shaking my head. Full Review »