Universal acclaim - based on 43 Critics What's this?

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Generally favorable reviews- based on 381 Ratings

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  • Summary: Matt King is an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family's land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. (Fox Searchlight) Collapse
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 38 out of 43
  2. Negative: 0 out of 43
  1. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    Nov 15, 2011
    It's a precarious balance, but Payne blends wit and poignancy so artfully it feels like an exquisitely choreographed dance.
  2. Reviewed by: Roger Ebert
    Nov 16, 2011
    What happens is that we get vested in the lives of these characters. That's rare in a lot of movies.
  3. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Nov 23, 2011
    The Descendants would still be a splendid movie without him; with Clooney, it's one of 2011's very best.
  4. Reviewed by: Lawrence Toppman
    Nov 22, 2011
    At bottom, all Payne's films make us smile, often ruefully but hopefully.
  5. Reviewed by: Dan Jolin
    Jan 23, 2012
    A marvellous follow-up to 2004's "Sideways" - well worth the wait.
  6. Reviewed by: Anthony Lane
    Nov 14, 2011
    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."
  7. Reviewed by: Richard Corliss
    Sep 14, 2011
    I'm a notorious softie, and I found things to like about the film, most particularly Clooney's performance; but I remained untouched.

See all 43 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 81 out of 114
  2. Negative: 10 out of 114
  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. 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. Expand
  3. 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
  4. Jan 26, 2012
    This review contains spoilers, click expand to view. Clooney and co. bring the quality.

    If actors were pieces of meat, George Clooney would be some sort of pricey premium cut. If actors were drinks, he would be the kind of finely aged scotch you've seen mature so perfectly it almost seems a crime to open it. If actors wer- the point is, the man seems to have developed a talent for picking his spots every Oscar season, often appearing in highly emotional, purpose-driven fare personally customised to earn him at least a nomination for Best Actor. This year is no different, as Clooney appears in not one, but two critically appraised films, and it is his efforts, along with an excellent supporting cast and magnetic script, that put The Descendants in prime position to take out the year's top prize. The title refers to Matt King (Clooney) and his daughters Alex (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara Miller). The extended King family are the descendants of affluent Hawaiians, and so continue to own their ancestor's many miles of untouched, pristine land. With Matt being promoted to primary stakeholder, he now holds the majority vote in the decision to sell this land. Important, yes, but this pales in comparison to the other big deal in Matt's life: a pair of unruly daughters, a wife whom he discovers has been cheating on him, and a boating accident that has placed said wife in an indefinite coma.

    With each passing year, it becomes more difficult to distinguish between good, honest films released over the holiday period, and those simply pining for an award or two. Certainly, this film has many typical elements of an Oscar-baiter: an intimate setting, an emphasis on interpersonal relationships and a protagonist at a crossroads in life. Very little of the synopsis is truly original, but the film draws its appeal from just how the story is told. On top of delivering a powerhouse performance, Clooney is present in virtually every scene which, coupled with the sporadic use of voiceover narration, gives the audience an intricate insight into the mentally-crippling decisions one man is forced to make in an attempt to keep his family together.

    The film starts off simply enough, but becomes more emotionally complex with each scene. The audience is introduced to Matt, we learn of his wife, we learn of the wife's indiscretions, whom she had an affair with and why this man is of more significance to the story than first thought. For almost two hours, The Descendants progressively builds to a climax that is altogether well rounded, conclusive and memorable, like some sort of grand operatic piece. Or Stairway to Heaven, whatever. Of course, this couldn't be a Best Picture nominee without some underlying themes to accompany the plot. The film deals a lot with life decisions. That is, which one is the right one, and how the most obvious or most favoured option may not always be best. But, in some sort of strange, complimentary fashion, the most surprising aspect of this movie is how plain funny it is. To be clear, The Descendants has no intention of being classified as a comedy, but its unique infusion of 'grown-up' storytelling and often very politically incorrect humour adds depth in the pure entertainment department, particularly for those who may be deterred into thinking this film is just another sob story.

    If an ambition to be bold is the film's main event, then its efforts to avoid predictability as the plot thickens is its equally strong undercard. As Matt and family take a trip out to the islands so he can show his kids exactly how much of the land is theirs, one daughter recalls how she used to camp out on one particular stretch of beach with her mother when she was younger. This sounds like a certain case of foreshadowing, but Matt knows that, given the events unfolding around them, one camping trip will not solve much. This is but one example of the maturity and monk-like dedication to persistently engaging the audience, making The Descendants a must-see anytime before Oscar night.

    *There's nothing I love more than a bit of feedback, good or bad. So drop me a line on and let me know what you thought of my review.*
  5. Jan 28, 2012
    Coming in with impossible to meet expectations after the brilliant Sideways, I must say I was quite satisfied with this movie. The actors, the setting, the story were excellent. It didn't lack Alexander Payne's edge, however it did miss it's humor, most of the jokes fall flat but the story stays compelling and interesting to deserve a viewing. Expand
  6. Dec 11, 2011
    It has high scores because it is more an art film than hollywood film. Those art films all have high scores because they appeal to a small independent segment. This film will find such an audience. It is enjoyable but long at times, but didn't feel long in the end. Expand
  7. Jun 15, 2012
    Absolutely lame. Uneventful, boring, and self-absorbed. The writers try in vain to express human pain through cinematic garbage. Clooney's character is the worst father and must be a concoction of today's liberal version of what a father should be like. Best film of the year? Possible since most films made today are terrible too. Expand

See all 114 User Reviews


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