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Generally favorable reviews- based on 396 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Negative: 19 out of 396

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  1. Nov 25, 2011
    Excellent casting, setting, plot, pacing, and performances. A movie which really makes you step back and look at yourself as well as the world with a different perspective. Clooney's performance is superb; the characters can be easily related to, as well as their troubles, and their constant struggle to do the right thing. Typically my reviews for movies are quite loquacious, but with such a well-made movie as The Descendants, I've found myself nearly speechless, there's really not much more one can say other than "wow!" Expand
  2. Feb 4, 2012
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. By no means should North Shore be confused for an accurate depiction of life in Hawaii. The 1987 film about an Arizonian surfing champ who nearly wins the Pipeline Masters, however, is honest enough to depict the racial strife that sometimes exist between the mainlanders and the locals. Rick Kane, oblivious to the tricky dynamics that govern the Hawaiian waters, rebuffs the advice of two seasoned surfers(who in a colonial context, are outsiders) to vamoose, when the "hui" suggests that he may be infringing on their turf. "He's so haole, he doesn't even know he is haole," one wave rider complains. To put it more succinctly, Rick is "haole as s***", to borrow a phrase from Matt King in The Descendants. Chandler, a longtime board-shaper and resident, who despite being white like his protege, knows the island's stormy history, and explains to the political naif that his victimization(a local boy steals his stuff) pales next to what the Hawaiians lost during the transference of land ownership, the meat and potatoes of colonization. North Shore, warts and all, is redeemed by having a conscience that nearly matches the white guilt of The Descendants, in which Matt's diatribe about skin color, also extends to language, admitting how his clan "can't even speak pidgin, let alone Hawaiian." Just before this searing self-critique, the filmmaker shows the land baron alone in a special room that contains old photographs of his ancestors, the people who made this generational inheritance possible, set to soft indigenous music that, depending on who you are, adds to the scene, either a sense of harmony or dissonance, in regard to the tradition of land stewardship. When Matt ends his backyard speech to the kinfolk with the assertion that they have "Hawaiian blood", that they are, in so many words, indeed local, The Descendants may still be deemed by some as being a film about the problems of privileged white people, a la Sofia Coppola's Somewhere. Despite the filmmaker's good intentions, is the King family Hawaiian enough to escape such easy ghettoization, the same upscale zip code where The Royal Tennenbaums reside. As the family takes one final look at their property, acres upon acres of verdant green that reaches, in both directions, the rolling mountains and crystal blue seawater, some will bristle a little when Scottie laments that she missed out on the King family tradition of camping with their comatose mother, like elder sister Alex before her, as if it was a tragedy on par with genocide. Although Matt takes great pains toward not instilling a sense of entitlement in his daughters, when he says that "in Hawaii, some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen," don't forget that he's including himself, not just his cousins in the boardroom, or Hugh, the unassuming barfly at that locals only hangout. In spite of himself, good man and all, there's still a whole lot of pride, and perhaps, a little hubris in Matt, as he surveys his kingdom from a cliff where King Kamehameha may have once stood. But to the lawyer's credit, he's upfront about his soft-hearted tyranny, admitting in all honesty that "we didn't do anything to own this land," and yet, it's not as if he would give the soil back to the rightful descendants, the homeless Hawaiians, whose forefathers were overrun by foreign interlopers who used religion as a weapon, soon after washing up on island shores. In George Roy Hill's Hawaii, a flawed, but relatively accurate portrayal of how an indigenous group of people lost the war against progress, it's one of the Hawaiian gods, surprisingly enough, not Jesus Christ, who makes his presence known, following the death of the "alii'nui", by creating a windstorm that all but blows away the Christian church ministered by the unctuous Rev. Hale. More importantly, as it relates to The Descendants, the 1966 film explains how a man like Matt could inherit such obscene wealth, in a scene where a preacher is expulsed from the ministry for marrying a native woman. "My wife has bought me several thousand acres of prime land," he brags. Still, Hawaii is, by no means, historically accurate. The Hawaiians, inexplicably, don't surf. Just like Matt, who hasn't picked up a board in fifteen years, according to the island chain's unlikely spokesman. Unlike the aforementioned films, Soul Surfer, the inspirational true story about Bethany Hamilton, all but whitewashes the precedence of a self-governing island nation by filling the screen with nary a brown face. Not so coincidentally, the film is faith-based. And yet, one of the gods from Hawaiian folklore accidentally makes a subtextual cameo, in which chanting can be heard over the soundtrack during the shark attack, suggestive of Mano, avenging, perhaps, the wholesale death of his people. Whereas Bethany lost an arm, and the King family loses a wife and mother, the Hawaiians, in the end, lost everything. Expand
  3. Nov 18, 2011
    The Descendants is the movie you see if you've lost faith in the ability of Hollywood to make really good movies with depth, feeling, and mastery of the craft. Payne is amazing, and we all know it. Sideways is one of the all-time greats, and even though this one doesn't quite scale those heights, it's incredibly good. The choice of actors is pitch-perfect - even some of the non-speaking roles (hello Sheriff Truman!) contribute tangibly to the fabric of the film. I won't discuss any particulars of the story so as not to spoil anything, but the Oahu/Kaua'i scenes with the island music are wonderfully rich. The islands are almost characters themselves. See the film. Expand
  4. Feb 3, 2012
    The Descendants is an emotionally resonant story that just happens to be consistently funny, touching, beautifully filmed along with the beautiful performances from Judy Greer, Shailene Woodley and George Clooney. And when all that is put together you have a beautiful picture of what a normal, real family is. I give this movie 93%.
  5. Feb 17, 2012
    This movie is fantastic! I love it! George Clooney did a good job. He nailed it! The way he talked and his body language was depicted very well. It is a beautiful story of a struggling father! The plot was done very well and so was the location of the story.
  6. Dec 25, 2011
    'The Descendants' is an amazing portrayal of a family whose life is shattered when the mother of the family lies in a coma. It's central themes of fatherhood and grief are dealt with in a sensitive and powerful manner. Very few movies of 2011 can come close to this kind of filmmaking.
  7. Nov 29, 2011
    "The Descendants" stars George Clooney and a number of perfectly cast actors in this beautiful, sad and honest story based on the novel written by Kaui Hart Hemmings. Masterfully directed by Alexander Payne, the writing, directing and editing of the film create a wonderful viewing experience that takes the viewer to the heart of a family's grief while allowing him or her to understand and share the frailties and positives of the human condition. A large part of this movie's success is due to the fine acting performance of Mr. Clooney.This is a portrayal that we will hear more about during the nominating process for Best Actor in 2012 and well deserved it will be. Mention must also be made of the superb acting done by a relative newcomer, Ms. Shailene Woodley, who, as Mr. Clooney's character's older daughtr, displays a grace and dignity not often found in her peers. She is a star in the making. I give this film an 8.5 for at no time was I ever conscious of its length but, instead, only of its power and beauty. Expand
  8. Jul 5, 2012
    When watching an original wildly entertaining smart film like the Descendants one wonders why more films can't feel like this. Alexander Payne really does it again, in both writing and directing, and hits just the right note all the way through, in of a story about a man played by George Clooney who deals with the conflicting emotions that his wife is in a comma and has also been unfaithful to him and his relationship with his rebellious daughters. There's not a single performance that doesn't work, and the film though perhaps less of an outright comedy than some of Payne's previous films has it's share of funny moments. Easily one of the five best movies of Clooney's career, possibly top three, and my second favorite Alexander Payne film behind Sideways. Expand
  9. May 27, 2012
    i really,really liked this movie. great acting all around, everyone plays their character perfectly even the supporting cast. interesting story, although i didn't read the book so i don;t know how great the adaptation is. and excellent pacing and direction. just a really well made film. really recommend it.
  10. Dec 23, 2012
    I found this a very touching and quite emotional film which brought echoes of events in my past to the surface (I won
  11. Nov 27, 2011
    A lot will be made of what genre "The Descendants" most properly fits into. And THAT is the highest praise that I can give this tremendous and moving film.
  12. Feb 3, 2012
    Alexander Payne is an expert at exploring rather dark subject matter in a relatively light-hearted way. We saw him do this in his last feature Sideways, and he carries on the tradition in The Descendants. The film discusses life, death, love and relationships, all pretty hefty subjects, through a combination of honest drama and comedy. The cast are superb across the board, with George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, Nick Krause and Robert Forster all giving sterling performances. Despite the universal acclaim Clooney's performance as Matt King has received (though quite rightly so), the real star of the film is the brilliant newcomer Amara Miller, playing Matt's wild younger daughter Scottie. The film is well-written, beautifully filmed, very funny and has a fine summer collection of Hawaiian shirts on show. It's the contrast between humour and serious drama that makes the film work in the end - there's some great physical comedy from Clooney, and some funny moments in the dialogue throughout, but also many rather tender, emotional and dramatic scenes (my favourite scene from the entire film is right at the end, with Matt and his two daughters snuggled up on the couch under a blanket and eating ice cream). The Descendants is really the story of a fairly privileged man who's trying to get through a really bad year in his life, and needs to himself (and his family) back on track. It's also a road movie - though Matt King's individual experiences are important moments for him and the audience, it is his difficult journey back to a relative normality in his life that really rewards the viewer. It's a refreshingly honest family drama, and despite having a pretty dark heart, the overall viewing experience is a cheerful and fulfilling one. We meet and spend time with believable people, characters who we can truly empathise with, and that is what makes the Descendants truly stand out from the crowd. Expand
  13. JMc
    Jan 16, 2012
    This a wonderfully entertaining film and also deeply touching. I laughed, I cried, I left the cinema with bleary eyes. I would like to know the people in this film. I would also now like to go on a holiday in Hawaii.
  14. Jan 29, 2012
    I thoroughly enjoyed this drama. At first, the tone of the movie is a little disconcerting - should I laugh or not? But with a little help from the director with one or two moments of obvious farce (Clooney struggling to run in flip flops) it becomes clear it is both a gentle and subtle comedy, with touches of wit and tenderness. The supporting cast is excellent, and the Hawaiian locations are simultaneously pedestrian and beautiful: this is where ordinary people lead largely ordinary lives. Almost every scene presents Clooney with a mini dilemma, and there is no certainty which choices he will make. One of the best movies I've seen in a long while. Expand
  15. Nov 28, 2011
    A naturally hilarious movie with not one false step. One of the most emotionally satisfying movies I've ever seen with two Oscar-worthy performances from George Clooney and Shailene Woodley. Grade: A+
  16. Apr 16, 2012
    No one has any redeeming qualities in this movie. That usually doesn't bother me, but these people are jerks! They all got me really angry. But the believable family dysfunction is what makes this movie so good. Despite disliking everyone, I thought the movie was real good. That one of my problem with last year's Best Picture Nominee, 'The Kids are Alright.' Everyone in that movie was too likable, so the dysfunction wasn't believable. This year, many people were rooting for The Help, which is really good, but I just think Descendants was better. An underdog story like The Help is easy to root for.

    To pull of a believable dysfunctional family is more difficult. In the Descendants you eventually do make an emotional investment and gain compassion despite the unlikable characters. This is one of the things 'Precious' had going for it a few years ago.

    I know 'The Artist' won, but I think the Descendants was the best picture of all the nominees.
  17. Feb 25, 2012
    The Descendants an amazing Sad-Comedy drama. Alexander Payne did an amazing job writing( & Directing this masterpiece . George Clooney was great as he (Most of the time) is . His acting was undoubtedly an Oscar acting . He was amazing all the way through . Shailene Woodley was sexy , charming and ******* awesome , (She) did better then I thought she would . Kaui Hart Hemmings's story was really really good . The way Kaui showed A Family going through the toughest time and they find themselves bottom of everything and managing through all that was pretty awesome .Really like how Payne directed the film with capturing all those Hawaiian scenes was so cool ,It was kinda woody alan's Midnight In Paris style (Which i liked so much) . The Descendants will make u sad but suddenly u will find urself laughing . Expand
  18. Jan 19, 2012
    The Descendants is one of those films that is a delight from beginning to end. It flits from happy to sad in the blink of an eye and from lung bustingly hilarious to serious in another. It's a film that is juggling so many themes and stories it would be easy for something to get lost in the shuffle but it never does. It is just a brilliant film from beginning to end.
    It follows the story
    of Matt King (George Clooney) and his daughters Alexandra and Scottie (Shailene Woodley & Amara Miller) who are thrown a curveball when their mother and Matt's wife hits her head in a boating accident and they discover she is never going to wake up. At the same time Matt is also dealing with the news that she was cheating on him as well as the sale of a huge chunk of Hawaiian land despite the fact he is having reservations. Not only is the story incredibly complex but the emotions are too with the characters being remarkably complicated with the character of Alexandra both missing the mother she lost while at the same time hating her for the last time they spoke. The conflicts and decisions made in this film feel real because they are handled so delicately by director Alexander Payne. The decision of when and how to tell Scottie about what is happening or how Matt reacts to the news his wife was unfaithful play out in unexpected yet understandable ways with the latter being both tragic while at the same time undeniably funny. Its a fine line that Payne has always been able to walk, much like in Sideways. His ability to make even the most depressing of news hilarious just by the way he works the camera or dresses the character. The Descendants may not be a comedy but believe me, it is hysterical in places. The supporting cast is perfectly cast with a few surprises. For instance comic actress Judy Greer plays the wife of Matt's wife's lover and is fantastic playing against type especially at the end of the film. Matthew Lillard is equally impressive as he proves he can be more than the stoner best friend or the crazy killer. However the film belongs to Clooney and Woodley who are just fantastic as a man trying to accept his responsibilities as everything falls down around him and the new matriarch, trying to protect her sister the way her mother would have. They both give captivating performances and the scenes they share are the best in the film. The film is long but never longer than it needs to be with every scene serving a purpose with most scenes having some emotion hidden beneath the surface. Even the landscapes and establishing shots give meaning to the film with the islands that make up Hawaii serving as a secondary character. The film is as much about heritage as it is about grief or betrayal. The Descendants is a story that has so many great moments and plot points that its easy to forget the point of it. Luckily Payne reminds us in a final shot that is both uplifting and sombre. It's his best film yet and easily one of the best of 2011. Expand
  19. Nov 20, 2011
    Like he's done in his previous movies, Alexander Payne takes a man at a crossroads and makes his predicament feel vital, relatable and real. "The Descendants" is better than "Sideways" because its protagonist lives in our world (though, granted, he's about to cash in on $100 million or so), and because it treats its characters not as oddities, but as genuine people trying to deal with the problems of life that, for them, at least, have no precedent. Wonderfully involving, splendidly acted. Expand
  20. Nov 20, 2011
    Best movie of the year so far. What really gets me is how the movie's scenes are at once cerebral, relaxed--just like the setting, Hawaii--but also powerful. A few scenes could have been a bit less corny, but I'm nit-picking.
  21. Dec 2, 2011
    Payne, Clooney and Papamichael are all at the top of their game in this taut, emotional film with a storyline that delivers pleasant surprises from beginning to end. Shailene Woodley is terrific as the eldest daughter, delivering a performance that feels so real and not "actoryly". Nick Krause is a quirky and love-able addition to the King family. A joy to watch!
  22. Jan 22, 2012
    Clooney gives a great performance, and it made me want to go to Hawaii. I wish the characters were more likeable, though.
  23. Dec 11, 2011
    The Descendants opens with George Clooney's narration detailing the non-paradise like aspect of Hawaii and from that moment on, the film becomes a touching and moving tale about family, betrayal, and death, absent of the traditional Hollywood cliches. Alexander Payne directs with brilliance as George Clooney brings the protagonist to life with all of his anger, sadness, and melancholy. Three plots emerge and by the end come together to create a film that rings with emotion and touches the heart. Expand
  24. Dec 17, 2011
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Hard to fathom the slew of 100 marks by professional reviewers for this film. All actors great. Story with undeveloped potential, bland instead of brilliant. We were dropped into this melodrama and given insufficient reasons to care about outcome but it's worse than that: we knew outcome of the land decision and the comatose wife, all telegraphed well in advance. When Matt leans over his wife to say goodbye to his best friend, his pain etc, it's a beautiful speech and absolutely without foundation in what we've been let in on for backstory. How hard would it be to show us some of this love in flashbacks. Same for her relationship with her daughters. Who were these people, really? Read the book, I guess. Expand
  25. Dec 23, 2011
    Fabulous acting! Such real and totally human characters and story. I really could not find one thing to fault. It is a tear jerker. Clooney should get the Best Actor Oscar, IMO.
  26. Jan 20, 2012
    It was an excellent movie that captures the raw emotions of a family dealing with betrayal, pain, and loss and learning to draw together for love and support.George Clooney played his part brilliantly.
  27. Dec 25, 2011
    I thought this was a great film. It was dad and funny, a real look at a family in crisis. They made you feel the pain of the characters without overt heart-tugging, the character experienced their emotions and you went along, feeling for them or not....
  28. Mar 2, 2012
    Into Personal Hell Alexander Payne makes films like novels. Unlike most films made from novels, none of the clever writing or sub-text is missing - it's all there on the screen. His work is character-driven, with seemingly loose plots, and are aimed at adults. In a world of cartoonish, special effects driven films, it's a great relief that he is here. This is darker than Sideways, and in some respects, just as good. Hawaii may look like paradise, but for Payne, it's paradise schmaradise. Gorgeous George plays against type. He is a schlumpy lawyer from a deeply rich local family. His almost dead wife has had an affair behind his floral shirted back. Forced to get a grip on his kids and his life, Matt King (Clooney) succeeds in confronting all the **** he has been long avoiding, including his wife's lover and his own family. In the climax to the sub-plot that's the most obvious part of the film, he tells his extended family he won't permit the last piece of family virgin land to be exploited, so that they can all be rich. He tells them if they don't like it, they can sue him. He says goodbye to his wayward, dying wife in a scene that is moving and true to life. The human comedy is Payne's game, and it is unusual for a US movie with mainstream stars to feature death so prominently. But it works. The surface has rays of light through the Hawaiian clouds, but don't kid yourself. This is as deep and unforgiving as American films get. If you want jet black death, watch Bergman's Cries and Whispers. If you want Americano death, you get a shot of cream and whiff of sugar. Yeh, give George his Oscar already - he won't get one for Oceans 14, and he's not going to the Middle East again. And give Payne one for his screenplay. Expand
  29. Jan 14, 2012
    by Georgia Xanthopoulou

    George Clooney, the sea and sun of Hawaii, floral patterns. Still, this isnâ
  30. Jan 22, 2012
    Best movie of the year. There was not too much competition though. The acting was the best of the year and the whole movie just felt real to me. I thought it might be too sappy for my taste, but it wasn't too bad in that department. At some parts, I actually laughed. Overall, a must see.
  31. Mar 17, 2012
    I loved it. Solid acting by the cast, Incredibly realistic view on how cheating can utterly devistate a family. I cant see how people hate this film, Its really good.
  32. Feb 3, 2012
    Now this movie lacks a lot of stuff--no car chases, no explosions, no nudity...but it does not lack for great acting and a strong story line. If you can take movies with only the latter, this is for you.
  33. Feb 4, 2012
    Just seen the movie The Descendants OK movie but not worthy of an Oscar of any kind.
    The best actor in the movie was â
  34. Feb 20, 2012
    Alexander Payne hasn't directed a feature-length film since 2004's Sideways, but if you're concerned that his seven-year absence might have dulled his storytelling skills, you can go ahead and put those fears to rest. The Descendants is the best film Payne has created yet, and features two career-defining performances, one from arguably the biggest movie star in Hollywood, and the other from an up-and-coming young actress that you'll be hearing plenty of great things about. George Clooney stars as Matt King, a Hawaiian native whose family is heir to a massive stretch of undeveloped beachfront property on the island of Kauai. As sole trustee, Matt must ultimately decide whether to sell that land to investors and make himself and his greedy, overbearing relatives rich beyond their wildest dreams. In the midst of this conflict arises another issue of a much more personal nature: Matt's wife, Elizabeth, is lying comatose after a boating accident, and she's not expected to wake up. Not only must Matt find a way to cope with this tragedy, he must also find a way to reconnect with his two daughters, the bratty but well-meaning Scottie (Amara Miller) and the angry, troubled Alexandra (Shailene Woodley). When Matt finally breaks the news to Alex that her mother's living will requests that she be removed from life support, she drops another bombshell: it seems that Elizabeth was having an affair. Clooney expertly navigates the myriad of troubles that Matt is presented with, doing some of the most complex work of his career as he inhabits this disheveled, defeated man who tries so hard to do the right thing for everyone without having the slightest clue what the "right thing" is. Clooney's performance is buoyed by a terrific supporting cast, including Beau Bridges as a greedy cousin pressuring Matt to sell the land, and Robert Forster as Matt's surly, tough-as-nails father-in-law. While we spend most of our time focused on Matt, it often feels like the centerpiece of the film is Alex, magnificently portrayed by Shailene Woodley (in her film debut) as the perfect embodiment of adolescent rage. The moment when she spitefully reveals her mother's secret feels so authentic that the audience feels like they're intruding on a real-life conversation between a parent and their angsty teen, but despite the character's bratty nature, the bond she begins to develop with her estranged father as they embark on a darkly comedic quest for answers becomes the driving force of the film. There's not a single character in The Descendants that doesn't have some sort of flaw, and the film makes no effort to paint them as anything but dysfunctional. We invest ourselves in the lives of these characters because there's something about each of them that we can recognize and relate to. Nobody in this film is perfect, and that's precisely what makes this a perfect film. Expand
  35. Feb 26, 2012
    I can safely say that George Clooney is quickly becoming, in terms of acting, this generations Cary Grant. He delivers a brilliant performance in the Descendants as a distracted and distant father and husband forced to deal with a family crisis. The movie itself does an amazing job of mixing the events of a family in an emotional crisis with lighthearted touches. You will laugh and cry. The wonder of this movie is that it does not try hard to accomplish any of this. It feels genuine through out. Keep a close eye on George's facial expressions as he struggles to deal with his families situation - they are worth the price of admission alone. Expand
  36. Aug 25, 2014
    An exquisite look at a most unusual story. Alexander Payne paints another ironically beautiful account of life and characters, with the help of a remarkable performance from George Clooney.
  37. Mar 21, 2012
    "The Descendants" is a movie many won't quite get, but when you forget preconceived notion then you'll realize that this is actually one of the better looks at the American family in cinema that has been done in recent years. Alexander Payne continues to rise the ranks as a now established director and George Clooney delivers a dynamic performance Matt King, the films main character. Shailene Woodley however makes the biggest impact with her star-making performance as Alexandra, Matt's rebellious party animal daughter. Its a far cry from the show that made her famous and she really does a stellar job paired with Clooney. Expand
  38. Aug 10, 2012
    At times it could be melodramatic, but this was both hilarious and heartfelt in classic Alexander Payne style. Total sidenote: who knew Shailene Woodley could act? That was a shocker...
  39. Dec 6, 2012
    Really great film! George Clooney gives the best performance of his career. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. One of the absolute best films of 2011.

Universal acclaim - based on 43 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 38 out of 43
  2. Negative: 0 out of 43
  1. Reviewed by: Dan Jolin
    Jan 23, 2012
    A marvellous follow-up to 2004's "Sideways" - well worth the wait.
  2. Reviewed by: Rene Rodriguez
    Nov 23, 2011
    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.
  3. Reviewed by: Shawn Levy
    Nov 23, 2011
    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.