The Descendants (2011)

descendants poster 2011 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Nice scenery, great acting, smart comedy-drama combination


Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Descendants

Studio:  Ad Hominem Enterprises

Genre(s):  Comedy/Drama

Release Date(s):  September 10, 2011 (Toronto)/November 18, 2011 (U.S.)

MPAA Rating:  R

the descendants george clooney wife elizabeth king coma

Can you be angry with someone who can’t defend herself?

The wife of Matt King (George Clooney) is dying.  At the same time, he’s trying to negotiate a deal for his family’s land on the island of Kauai.  When he learns from his daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) that his wife was having an affair, Matt finds he doesn’t know how to accept this information.  Seeking out his wife’s boyfriend Brian Speer (Matthew Lillard), Matt, his daughter Alex, Alex’s friend Sid (Nick Krause), and Matt’s younger daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) try to come to terms with their past and their hopes for the future.

Directed by Alexander Payne (who helped adapt the screenplay), The Descendants is a comedy-drama.  The film adapts the 2007 novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings and was well received upon its release.  It won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay with nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Clooney), and Best Film Editing.  Clooney also took home a Golden Globe for Best Actor—Drama.

the descendants land hawaii

Yep…turn it into strip malls and hotels

I saw The Descendants when it was new…then a lot of stuff happened in life.  Rewatching The Descendants, I see the picture differently than the first viewing.  The idea of watching someone die and the thoughts going through your head hang heavy, and The Descendants gets the idea of mourning, the past, and the glimpses of the future right.

The story has a lot of layers.  It is a story about grief and loss, but it is an also a story about expectations.  How do accept a person’s faults after they are gone?  Do you get mad at them or do you forgive them?  If you knew about the faults and cannot talk about them, do you harbor the resentment?  This is combined with a story about family heritage and letting go or keeping the past.  Matt’s decision about how to move forward is different than his children.  He has resentment, but Alex’s feelings are different than his, and Scottie’s emotions are much different than both of their emotions.  The variety of grief is explored and opens up a lot of different avenues for recovery for the characters.

the descendants matthew lillard george clooney


The movie has a strong cast.  Clooney often plays the heartthrob, but he also feels realistic as the distant husband.  Shailene Woodley is the angry character.  She’s mad at her mother and can’t get past that anger.  Amara Miller is the oblivious character.  She is trying to cope but can’t really understand everything going on.  You also have nice smaller roles by Judy Greer, Beau Bridges, and Robert Forster, but I do have to admire Matthew Lillard who evolves from teen actor into adult in this film.

The movie does make you fall in love with Hawaii.  A lot of the movie is about giving up the past and if you should give up the past.  The characters own a chunk of land on Kauai and their decision about what to do with that land could alter the course of the island.  They have the choice to profit or try to find another answer…an idea that seems to be facing a lot of America’s nature.

the descendants hawaii george clooney

Living in Hawaii sucks…

The Descendants is a movie that can change over time.  It isn’t the same movie as when I watched it originally because it is a movie that age and experience effect.  It is a movie about forgiveness and trying to predict what the future needs and will best profit from.  It is a strong movie and like many of Payne’s movies, it is a bittersweet movie that mixes laughs and sadness.  If you saw it in the theater or when it was new, it deserves a rewatching…time can affect your viewing.

Related Links:

The 84th Academy Award Nominations

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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