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Movie Review – The Descendants (2011 – United States)

Updated on May 29, 2012

When we speak of our family our language betrays us: we use words that imply that we own them. We say, “my mother, my daughter,” we refer to “my wife, my son.” But we don’t own them, of course, and they have—we all have—secrets, private lives, inner worlds. How much we share with them, and how much they confide in us, defines those relationships, not some unrealistic notion of possession.

The Descendants is a thoughtful, beautifully realized film that is about those definitions, those relationships, and about how they are constantly in a state of flux. A father is suddenly faced with the full burden of parenthood, after having escaped that responsibility through the course of his marriage to a woman who is in the process of escaping life—of dying. A daughter struggles to redefine her identity as her world quivers and shimmers with the abrupt manifestation of grim reality. And layered over all of that is the ultimate responsibility we share for the planet, or at least for the portion of it over which we have full control.

George Clooney & Shailene Woodley in The Descendants

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George Clooney draws attention for his good looks and the soap opera of his personal life, but he is a talented actor blessed with a broad range. He can play a clown, and in an instant we see the humanity of that clown. His role here is not as broadly drawn as in the excellent Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? but he gets to stretch his wings and show us the complexity of his by turns baffled and determined father and husband. It’s a fine performance for which he deserves high praise.

The Descendants

But all the actors do well with the material in The Descendants, raising what might otherwise be a very slim little movie to a much higher level. Highly recommended.

Copyright © Roberta Lee 2012. All rights reserved.

(I am an artist and the author of the Suburban Sprawl series of novels as well as two nonfiction books. Find out more about my work at

Genre: Drama, Comedy

Rating: R

Running Time: 1 hr. 50 min.

Directed By: Alexander Payne

Written By: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash

In Theaters: Nov 18, 2011 Limited

Box Office: $58.7M

Fox Searchlight Pictures


George Clooney - Matt King

Shailene Woodley - Alexandra King

Amara Miller - Scottie King

Nick Krause - Sid

Patricia Hastie - Elizabeth King

The Descendants asks, "Is Paradise for sale?"

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    • DIYmyOmy profile image

      DIYmyOmy 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Have you seen The Descendants? If so, tell me what you think it right here.......