Review: The Descendants

A review by SLAM ADAMS!

Director: Alexander Payne

Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, and Beau Bridges

Plot: George Clooney plays Matt, a Hawaiian land owner. Matt has to face becoming a more active parent after his wife ends up in a coma after a boating accident.


The Descendants is a meditation on the responsibility we have to our families. The respect we need to show each other. The things we have to say, the things we don’t. On a small scale, Matt King juggles his two very different daughters. One is still young and naïve bubbling with enthusiasm and hope. She has not been beaten into cynicism by the real world yet. The other is a brash teenager forced into cynicism when she reaches an age where her parents’ flaws are more apparent than their strengths. On the bigger scale, Matt is forced to run the gamut of different close and distant relatives burying hatchets and looking for closure. It is an eye-opening and honest portrayal. One that is not afraid to be funny and light-hearted, which is very impressive given that indie movie scene enjoys going as dark and deep as it possibly can.

The nature of the movie pretty much bets the entire success of the movie on the talent and chemistry of the actors. Thankfully, when it comes to chemistry George Clooney has an amazing track record. It’s like sports, what makes him more than an all-star is not just his pure talent, but the fact that he makes everyone around him better. This is the first big projects for Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller (literally Miller’s debut project), and they both do a fantastic job. They are given some complicated emotions to deal, the hardest of all being restraint. And restraint seems to be the keyword in this movie. There are plenty of emotional outburst and breakdowns, but they are few and far between the actors actually working to hold back and bottle up.

I just wish the movie was funnier. There are plenty of laughs in the movie especially for a predominantly dramatic movie. Some key scenes play like they were straight out of a broad comedy. For instance, Clooney darts around bushes peering over them like one of the Three Stooges or something. Clooney’s wit is undeniable, but they actively try to keep him as some kind of ref between his vulgar teen daughter and his other daughter who always says the wrong thing without really knowing why it’s wrong. It is funny at first but doesn’t have any real mileage. There also seemed to be a lot of confidence put into the comedy stylings of the older daughter, Alex’s, boy friend. His surfer doofus gets old really fast. At least, the filmmakers are smart enough to not keep him an archetype for the whole movie.

The Descendants is a heart-warming tale that spins family tragedy into a learning experience. It is very effective at combining emotions into singular experiences capturing a true slice of life.

EIGHT out of TEN