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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
George Clooney
Shailene Woodley
Beau Bridges
Judy Greer
Robert Forster.
Directors
Alexander Payne.
Screenwriters
Alexander Payne
Nat Faxon
Jim Rash.
Running Time
111 minutes

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The Descendants
Blue Hawaii


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Plot
While Hawaiian property magnate Matt King (Clooney) is overseeing the sale of his family’s last parcel of land, his wife is rendered comatose in a jet ski accident. Now the distant father must become a single parent to his troublesome daughters (Woodley, Miller), as well as deal with a devastating revelation.


Review
The Descendants
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The funny thing about Alexander Payne’s stories — all of them comedies — is that they’re not funny. About Schmidt: a bereaved old man travels across America to stop his daughter’s wedding. Election: a frustrated high-school teacher tries to confound a high-achieving pupil’s political ambitions. Sideways: two men go away for a stag weekend; the stag philanders while the best man finds love. Yet, in Payne’s hands they are ripe with humour. Surprising, sometimes shocking, laugh-barking humour. It’s not so much that Payne has a talent for finding comedy in the most unlikely places. More that he has a talent for mining the truth that we all find comedy in the most unlikely places.

So it proves with The Descendants, an entry in the Payne canon which deserves to sit close to his career-thus-far high of Sideways. The synopsis above doesn’t exactly sound guffaw-a-minute. Late-midlife crisis; dysfunctional progeny; controversial real-estate sale; wife in coma. It sounds like something more designed to get unstimulated homemakers weepie over a lunchtime gin. Actually, despite the presence of a classic-Payne ‘doofus’ character (Nick Krause’s obtuse teenager Sid) and a few glorious displays of physical comedy (a sudden cold-cock; George Clooney’s hilarious running), there are fewer big laughs to be found here than in Payne’s previous films. But that’s no weakness. It’s arguably his most complex work yet, one which should benefit from repeat viewings.

Perhaps, that’s a result of its idiosyncratic genesis, which makes it
a layer cake of outsider perspectives. The novel, a first-person narrative from the fiftyish Matt King’s POV, was written by Kaui Hart Hemmings, a thirtysomething woman. The film, which like the book is set in Hawaii, was made by a guy from Omaha, Nebraska, whose work has never previously left the American mainland. And the main character, a family man and faithful but arguably dull husband, is played by George Clooney.

Clooney played to his public image in his last ‘Best Actor Nominee’ role, for Jason Reitman’s Up In The Air. Here he dumps it entirely. Matt King is a role that could just as easily have worked with Paul Giamatti, William H. Macy or Bryan Cranston. He is narrator as well as main character, and Clooney, a man well used to reclining on the shores of Lake Como, has no difficulty convincing us that when he says during the opening voiceover that “paradise can go fuck itself”, he really does mean it. We’re not seeing the glamour rechannelled here — we’re seeing the actor, wrinkles and all.

Clooney’s greatly assisted by the supporting cast — from bit-parters Beau Bridges (as Matt’s deceptively laidback cousin) and Matthew Lillard (as a shit-grinned rival), to the actresses who play his daughters. Shailene Woodley and newcomer Amara Miller are perfect as Matt’s 17- and ten year-old offspring respectively, each revealing depths beneath the ‘rebellious teen’ and ‘precocious brat’ archetypes. Woodley comes surprisingly close to snatching the film away from Clooney, and not just because it’s her character who ultimately drives the plot. “Did you just spank me?” she hisses at Matt after he ineptly attempts discipline. Her reaction is on-the-nose: somewhere between disbelief, outrage and amusement. It’s an exquisite moment.

Of which there are many in The Descendants, a film which thrives on its perceptive and vibrant script (co-written by Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash). Not only does it zing resonantly — “In Hawaii some of the most powerful people look like bums and stuntmen” — it also deftly ducks the easy options, cutting away, for example, from Matt’s ‘big speech’ scene before the speech; we already know what he’s going to say, so why bother? There are few filmmakers out there as incisively and entertainingly intelligent as Alexander Payne, and he makes few films. So, like Sideways before it, The Descendants is something to be cherished.


Verdict
A marvellous follow-up to 2004’s Sideways — well worth the wait.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Descendants
Empire Star Rating

I didn't realize I liked Hawaii this much

This movie, like Sideways, slaps you when you least expect it. There are so many little surprises here - and I do mean little. No CG buildings getting knocked down, no thundering soundtrack, no sudden bursts into impassioned shouting. But when someone spills the beans, reveals more than they were gonna (and in one sublime piece, bites off the big revelation and decides NOT to out the truth - to spare the feelings of someone obviously deserving the big comeuppance). THAT, amigos, is some da... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by FaudeCarfilhiot at 17:34, 18 January 2013 | Report This Post


Hawaiian Punch

While not perfect, this film comes close. Payne is a master of tone, and this one is for the lesson books in terms of getting a story tone right. Clooney has never been better, because he is always this good. A bona-fide star, Clooney exudes class and he plays Max King with such grace and intelligence you'd think he was real. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Kramer Bozco at 06:00, 04 June 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

I enjoyed this very much. It was beautiful, sad, touching, emotive and humorous - I agree whilst Clooney was good he wasn't Oscar-worthy, Shailene Woodley on the other hand was brilliant and deserves award recognition but that aside it was still a lovely film, it may not be quite on the same level as 'Sideways' but it's still an excellent piece of work and you can see why it's got the plaudits. 4/5 ... More

Posted by Goodfella at 02:14, 01 April 2012 | Report This Post


It's funny, sad, moving, beautiful, realistic - all at the same time. The whole cast is great and the dialogue, the scenes and the characters made the movie really enjoyable. I hope The Descendants collects all the awards it truly deserves!! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by FanaticalAboutFilm at 20:32, 21 February 2012 | Report This Post


Nice drama in wich Matt King (George Clooney) is going to need to take care for his two daughters after his wife comes into a coma after an accident. While having never done so in the years before the accident, everything falls onto his shoulders now... A pretty decent film with a story of wich we have seen the bottom line before. What takes this one above mediocrity is an extremely strong George Clooney performance and the tight direction by Alexander Payne. He keeps control of his material an... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheGodfather at 22:15, 15 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

I think it deserves its oscar nom. The movie ambles along rather nicely, it's easy on the eye, & honestly when that music kicks in it's just as good as being there. It's certainly a movie that will linger long in your thoughts. ... More

Posted by Jackie Boy at 20:56, 10 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

Watched this last night. Thought it was very good. Enjoyable, light hearted, but with some emotional heft. Thought Clooney was good, but Dujardin deserves the Oscar. ... More

Posted by nhassell at 15:50, 08 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

Very high hopes for this film last Friday at 12.00 when I found myself in my local Cineworld surrounded by a surprisingly replete audience. GOOD: -Clooney is excellent: a nice subtle performance. The entire cast is very good. -Well judged script: good pacing and the highs and lows deliver. -Great soundtrack THE NOT-SO GOOD: -Clooney. while great, is perhaps not "schlubby" enough to really fit this role. -Sid character is quite annoying and, to me at least, ... More

Posted by st3veebee at 10:19, 08 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

Very high hopes for this film last Friday at 12.00 when I found myself in my local Cineworld surrounded by a surprisingly replete audience. GOOD: -Clooney is excellent: a nice subtle performance. The entire cast is very good. -Well judged script: good pacing and the highs and lows deliver. -Great soundtrack THE NOT-SO GOOD: -Clooney. while great, is perhaps not "schlubby" enough to really fit this role. -Sid character is quite annoying and, to me at least, ... More

Posted by st3veebee at 10:19, 08 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

Very high hopes for this film last Friday at 12.00 when I found myself in my local Cineworld surrounded by a surprisingly replete audience. GOOD: -Clooney is excellent: a nice subtle performance. The entire cast is very good. -Well judged script: good pacing and the highs and lows deliver. -Great soundtrack THE NOT-SO GOOD: -Clooney. while great, is perhaps not "schlubby" enough to really fit this role. -Sid character is quite annoying and, to me at least, ... More

Posted by st3veebee at 10:19, 08 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

Very high hopes for this film last Friday at 12.00 when I found myself in my local Cineworld surrounded by a surprisingly replete audience. GOOD: -Clooney is excellent: a nice subtle performance. The entire cast is very good. -Well judged script: good pacing and the highs and lows deliver. -Great soundtrack THE NOT-SO GOOD: -Clooney. while great, is perhaps not "schlubby" enough to really fit this role. -Sid character is quite annoying and, to me at least, ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by st3veebee at 10:18, 08 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

Very high hopes for this film last Friday at 12.00 when I found myself in my local Cineworld surrounded by a surprisingly replete audience. GOOD: -Clooney is excellent: a nice subtle performance. The entire cast is very good. -Well judged script: good pacing and the highs and lows deliver. -Great soundtrack THE NOT-SO GOOD: -Clooney. while great, is perhaps not "schlubby" enough to really fit this role. -Sid character is quite annoying and, to me at least, ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by st3veebee at 10:18, 08 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: OSCAR BAIT.....

Never hits the dizzy heights of Sideways, but in fairness, I suspect Alexander Payne will struggle to ever top that effort of eights ago. Still, good to see him back with another drama seeped in melancholy yet not immune from the odd giggle. Clooney is great as the father figure struggling to keep it together whilst everything around him falls apart, whereas the two daughters provide excellent back-up & really sell the notion of a fragmanted family unit attempting to bring themselves back toget... More

Posted by Qwerty Norris at 21:09, 06 February 2012 | Report This Post


OSCAR BAIT.....

....of the highest order. Gorgeous George as a harrassed father of two....who's wife is cheating on him?????Get the fuck outta here!!!! This lame soap opera is nothing but mawkish, manipulative, hollywood tosh - and how it's raking in all these glowing reviews is beyond me - and I loved Sideways!!! Laugh? I never even started. Heart warming? I must have a heart of stone because I was wishing that a friggin tsunami would just arrive and wipe out the whole lot of them! And where were the natives? ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 19:01, 06 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

I thought this was a decent movie, well acted, the eldest daughter I thought was excellent. Certainly do not believe Clooney deserves an Oscar for this, not even close in my books.............personally Gary Oldman gets my nod for Tinker Tailor for the Oscar over Clooney ... More

Posted by spides at 05:14, 06 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Disappointments

5/10 The Descendants: G. Clooney is in top form. The film’s entertaining, though unsatisfying. I was honestly expecting more from this. It’s overrated. Last year’s The Kids Are All Right was far better for me. ... More

Posted by m_er at 13:29, 02 February 2012 | Report This Post


The Disappointments

Don't get the oscar nods toward this at all? It's a decent film but not a great one. Clooney's acting is terrific but preferred him in Up In The Air(which was also a better film). I've given this three stars on the basis that the first hour is funny and it's enough to carry the film through in the end. But there's no emotional pay-off, anyone who's reduced to tears by this is probably pregnant or has some sort of real emotional issues going on here. I watched 50/50 recently and it was the funnie... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Mr. Anderson at 04:13, 02 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

A three-star four-star movie (if that makes any sense). Don't think it massively the deserves an of its award nominations, certainly not a better film than TTSS in my opinion but that's for another thread ... More

Posted by musht at 00:57, 02 February 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Descendants

This is undoubtably one of the best films that I've seen over the past year. The Cloon gives a fantastic, believable performance. This combined with a heartbreaking story and many, many sub stories such as Alex having to quickly grow up makes for a impeccable film. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by derbz at 19:45, 31 January 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Surprised? I shouldn't be

Thought it was pretty good BUT NO SIDEWAYS also Clooney's no Giamatti & if he gets the Oscar it'll be a very poor showing this year. ... More

Posted by Wild about Wilder at 10:30, 31 January 2012 | Report This Post


Surprised? I shouldn't be

I was nervous as I sat down in the cinema-I'm 15, I don't usually go and see these sorts of films at the cinema, but I'd heard good things , so i thought why not? Was not dissapointed. Some truly beautiful shots of Hawaii make a nice contrast to the emotional turmoil going on in the King family. The story was completely bittersweet, but with a lovely, understated pay off, and I don't think Clooney has ever been better. All supporting actors are also on form, and the scripting is very good. Its n... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by jokerjoker2896 at 22:06, 29 January 2012 | Report This Post


it's awful!?

So boring. Totally humourless. Naff story (is it about a bad dad and his kids? or the wife's affair? or the whole land sale? all and none). Made-for-TV direction. Lame script. And Clooney (who isn't bad) gets absolutely nothing to do. That he even got a nom for this role is astounding. To then go and win over Gosling or Fassbender is an affront of the highest order. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by tysmuse at 18:49, 29 January 2012 | Report This Post


Loved It

Great story nice acting brilliant characters The Descendants will linger in your thoughts making you realize what a good film it was possibly prompting you to see it again. Its a nice heartwarming film with comedy in the places you might least expect its funny and sad and heartwarming to sum it up. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bighousewill at 14:20, 28 January 2012 | Report This Post


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