1.5 Stars
Year Released: 2011
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 115 minutes
Click to Expand Credits:

It brings me little pleasure to inform you that Alexander Payne’s new film “The Descendants” is something of a bore. This tale of angst among the privileged one-percenters never fails to hit every imaginable false note, creating a dismal cacophony of turgid emotion and lame comedy.

Hawaiian lawyer Matt King (George Clooney) is preparing to sell off a huge chunk of property that has been in his family since the white folks showed up in what used to be the Sandwich Islands. However, a significant distraction pops up: his wife was severely injured in a boating accident and is in a deep coma from which she may never recover.

If that’s not bad enough, Matt is forced to jettison his longstanding role as “the backup parent, the understudy” and become the guiding parental force for his daughters. However, ten-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and her teen-aged sister Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) are less than enthused by their father’s belated recognition of his parental responsibilities. Alexandra also has a stoner boyfriend (Nick Krause) who spends most of the film playing a “hey, dude” comic relief to slow-burning, uptight Matt.

If that’s not enough, Matt discovers that his wife was cheating on him at the time she had her boating accident. This gives Clooney the opportunity to do slapstick via an extended clumsy run in boat shoes (he looks like a frantic cassowary evading a predator) and melodrama via a confrontation with his wife’s lover (Matthew Lillard, who seems to have put on a bit of weight since his “Scooby Doo” halcyon days).

Unlike Payne’s earlier work, “The Descendants” does not have a single original idea to offer. The film is too silly when it tries to be serious and too stale when it tries to be funny. The film is especially obnoxious when the young girls hog the screen with Neil Simon-style wisecracks and whining. Clooney walks through the film with a wide-eyed and slightly agitated look – it is unclear if he is trying to look distressed or if his contact lenses are bothering him. His line readings are at a consistent monotone and it is impossible to feel anything for his character. Old-time scene-stealers Robert Foster and Beau Bridges are on hand in small overcooked roles that seem to be inserted into the film for the sole purpose of snagging them a chance for the Best Supporting Acting Oscar.

Payne has been responsible for creating such memorable films as “Election,” “About Schmidt” and “Sideways.” Everyone makes mistakes, and “The Descendants” is Payne’s.

Posted on December 4, 2011 in Reviews by

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24 Comments on "THE DESCENDANTS"

  1. Rick Vinson on Sun, 4th Dec 2011 9:10 pm 

    Lousy review. I thought it was a wonderful film and beautifully captured a “sense” of Hawai’i. For those of us who live here it reflected much of life in the islands alongside of the angst of an individual family.

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  2. Dan O. on Sun, 4th Dec 2011 11:24 pm 

    Clooney and everybody else included is great but it’s really Payne who shines as the writer bringing out some funny humor but not without forgetting about the real rich moments of human drama. Good review.

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  3. George on Mon, 5th Dec 2011 10:11 pm 

    Unlike SIdeways and About Schmidt, I actually want to see The Descendants again. It’s Payne’s best movie since Election. I found it emotionally involving and very moving without being tawdry and schmaltzy.

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  4. JA on Tue, 6th Dec 2011 1:34 am 

    Absolutely amazing film – not sure what Mr. Hall was watching or what chip on his shoulder he walked into the theatre with. Readers beware: this review is clearly out of touch.

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  5. Craftymeerkat on Wed, 7th Dec 2011 7:21 pm 

    Agreed. A pretty lame film with some bad acting to boot. Why care about any of these characters?

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  6. George on Sat, 10th Dec 2011 7:21 pm 

    In places, the movie was brilliant. In other places, it was awful. Generally got better as it went along, but even then it threw some stink bombs in. The extended narration at the beginning was almost entirely unnecessary — we could have figured out most of that stuff on our own. Election, About Schmidt and Sideways were more interesting and better movies with more to say.

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  7. Loved Descendants on Sun, 11th Dec 2011 12:50 am 

    I always wonder at reviews such as this one which are clearly written by someone who missed the point of a masterpiece. Not enough explosions? No car chase? Read a few other, better, more insightful and thoughtful commentaries–this one is mean-spirited and, if nothing else, poorly written.

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  8. Descendants! on Sun, 11th Dec 2011 9:21 pm 

    This poorly written review of a good movie reveals more about the critic than it does about the film. Misspelling an actor’s name (it’s Robert Forster, not Foster, as the review has it) exposes the unfortunate critic who doesn’t care enough to get even the simple things right.

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  9. Film_Shark on Mon, 12th Dec 2011 7:55 am 

    I can’t believe this film critic could not find one positive thing he liked about ‘The Descendants.’ Alexander Payne is an excellent story teller. His characters go through a painful journey (Sideways, About Schmidt) to become a better person in life. That’s the basic premise to any good character development and story.

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  10. Phil Hall on Mon, 12th Dec 2011 9:57 am 

    My apologies to Mr. Forster – I hate having my name misspelled, too!

    You know, there is also a more appreciative review of this production here on Film Threat – Perhaps those who did not agree with my opinion can scoot over and give their thumbs up to the positive review written by my Film Threat colleague Rick Kisonak?

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  11. Susan on Sat, 17th Dec 2011 1:30 pm 

    I absolutely agree with Phil Hall. This was the worst movie I’ve seen in ages. (I’m usually able to avoid the bad ones.) If it was trying to be like “On Golden Pond”, it missed by miles. There’s nothing to redeem this movie. Totally unbelievable, contrived, play-acting. A truly dysfunctional, rich family, whining for 2+ hours is not my idea of time well spent.The acting didn’t convince me to sympathize with these characters. Of course I guess that’s hard with convoluted writing. And then they all live happily ever after!!! Yeah ……… right!

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  12. Lholt on Thu, 22nd Dec 2011 11:51 pm 

    I’m with you, Phil. I hated this movie. We thought it would be interesting to see it before our trip to Hawaii. Unrelenting mawkishness. We kept making jokes about looking for ashes during our trip… ;(

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  13. Janette michaels on Mon, 26th Dec 2011 9:54 am 

    I agree with you. I saw the film yesterday, and was embarrassed watching it. There was nothing really moving at all about the film–and it definitely bordered on creepy and necrophilic. Too bad because Sideways is one of my favorite films.

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  14. Laurel Baldridge on Tue, 27th Dec 2011 3:22 am 

    Yes, very depressing, not funny at all – boring. Please don’t make us look at that woman in a coma one more minute ! Was not explained enough about the land trust. Crude language and bratty kids – only saw to see Kauai !!!!!!

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  15. Jon on Tue, 27th Dec 2011 6:44 pm 

    Thanks for the warning – glad to dodge a bullet betting on the absurd notion that at this late date George Clooney might finally demonstrate an ability to express the emotional range of an adult male.

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  16. powermatic on Sun, 1st Jan 2012 2:12 pm 

    Good review, but failed to point out some of the more egregious moments, like when Comic Relief Stoner Dude, in a setting of serious drama, laughs out loud at a woman with dementia. Come on-seriously.

    I couldn’t believe this pedestrian trifle was brought to us by the same guy who made ‘About Schmidt’. And someone here called it a “masterpiece”? Dear god….

    Was cool seeing Laird Hamilton in a movie though-he actually did pretty well!

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  17. Mary on Sun, 8th Jan 2012 4:35 pm 

    The review was right on. I was really looking forward to seeing this movie as I’m a fan of Payne’s but I couldn’t believe the manipulative, bad – acting piece of work I picked for a date. Biggest movie disappointment of the year for me. I let my date pick out the next movie, “War Horse”, for us to see.

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  18. Nick on Sun, 8th Jan 2012 11:33 pm 

    This review is spot on – the film was so uneven, underwritten and miscasted. At no point did I believe any of these actors were related and whatever problems they were having… gone by the second act so we could focus on Clooney chasing down Mr. Lillard (while his wife was being taken off life support no less). You know you’re in trouble when the script is so lazy that you’re forced to listen to 10 minutes of voiceover exposition explaining what the characters feel. I love Citizen Ruth and Election, About Schmidt was good and I’m one of the few that hated Sideways. I’d rather watch Sideways again than hear Clooney say “my love…my pain… blah, blah, blah.”

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  19. Lauren on Wed, 25th Jan 2012 11:19 am 

    Reviewer Phil Hall articulately pens the sad and disappointing truth about this film in his well-written review. It panders. It’s cliche laden. It mirrors the affectless flatline tedium and artifice of the barren emotional lives of most Americans — but particularly the leisure
    class who seem perpetually at liberty from earning a living, with ample time for indulging in feckless introspection.

    Clooney’s opening, voice-over monologue unconvincingly seeks to rebut the premise that money, privilege and a idyllic setting are buffers against lifes’ tragic arc. The actors dry heave their way through the script– with the exception of an extreme close-up of a single tear navigating its way down George Clooney’s nose — demonstrating even that even the cast were hard=pressed to summon a simulacrum of grief.

    The closing scene with the family remnant blankly ensconsed on their sofa, eating ice cream while watching “March of Penguins” with Morgan Freeman’s omniscient, reassuring narratation set against icy nature’s stark indifference achieves for a fleeting, piquant instance a flash of irony which the film otherwise lacks.

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  20. Susanne Freytag on Wed, 1st Feb 2012 12:38 pm 

    Thank you! I totally agree with your assessment of this film. A friend of mine and her daughter actually walked out on it the other day. For the life of me I don’t get why everyone thinks this movie is so great. Had it been set in Detroit, it would never have made it to the big screen. Yes, Hawaii is beautiful. Do all the men there really wear nothing but Hawaiian shirts?! I thought the best actress was the wife in a coma. I’m not even kidding. Usually people in comas are depicted as Sleeping Beauties. It was the most genuine thing about this movie. Thanks for letting me vent.

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  21. Annie on Wed, 8th Feb 2012 6:59 pm 

    This reviewer is either, a moron, a prick or someone who has never suffered a bereavement in his life. Then again, he could be all three! It tells the tale of approaching loss and the tale of betrayal beautifully.

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  22. TJ on Tue, 28th Feb 2012 4:16 am 

    The Descendents got 89% on rotten tomatoes. What does that say about your opinion Phil? It means it’s flawed. It may be your opinion but its well and truly the minority. I think your perception of what a movie is, is very different to what many people perceive.
    You’re welcome to your opinion but you’re wrong about this movie.

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  23. Mary on Wed, 11th Apr 2012 9:13 am 

    I agree with the reviewer. I couldn’t even finish watching it. Not good, not good, not good. I must say that About Scmidt is one of my favorite movies, but I thought that Sideways was just awful. Talk about despicable characters. In my view, the director has a history of very good and very bad films. The Descendants falls into the latter category. Character drives the narrative; one-dimensional characters can’t and will never get the job done.

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  24. matt on Mon, 21st May 2012 10:42 pm 

    Spot on review Phil! You nailed this turkey for what it is. Thanks!

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