The Descendants Movie Poster Image

The Descendants



Devastating, moving dramedy about death and forgiveness.
Parents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: November 16, 2011
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2011
  • Running Time: 115 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Although the movie presents families as murky, dysfunctional messes, it's also saying that even the smallest sliver of forgiveness has a way of illuminating the dark. And when things get overwhelming, ride them out -- just be, and you'll find equilibrium soon.

Positive role models

Though Matt confesses to being an absent father, when tragedy strikes, he really does show up for his kids. He's also quite forgiving of his wife and of others and refuses to dwell on whatever breaks his heart.


A woman lies in a coma after a boating accident, and there are plenty of close-ups of her at the hospital that could be upsetting for younger viewers. A man screams at his wife and at a couple; a daughter bickers with her father. A grandfather punches a high-schooler.


Revelations of infidelity and discussions about halted sex lives. A man kisses another man's wife.


Tweens, teens, and adults swear frequently, including "f--k," and make gestures that pretty much say the same thing. Also: "damn," "s--t," "a--hole," "p---y," "bitch," "prick," "hell," "ass," "crap," "goddamn," "oh my God," and more.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

References to a teenager having trouble with drugs and alcohol. Her father and a school official catch her drunk on a beach. Social drinking in pubs and at parties.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this quietly powerful George Clooney dramedy from the director of Election and Sideways careens between dark and light moments in a snap -- and some of the dark moments are really dark. Because of this heaviness and the movie's mature subject matter (death, infidelity), The Descendants is too much for younger teens and tweens, even though the cast prominently features a 10-year-old (who cusses) and her older teen sister (played by The Secret Life of the American Teenager's Shailene Woodley). There's also a fair amount of swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t") and some underage drinking, including one scene in which a teen girl is caught drunk.

What's the story?

Real estate attorney Matt King (George Clooney) knows that he's never been the go-to parent for his two daughters, 10-year-old Scotty (Amara Miller), who's testing her boundaries with swearing and "mean girling," and 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley), sent to boarding school after a bout with drugs and alcohol. Matt's wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie), has been there for the girls, but now she's lying in a coma after a motorboat accident. Matt and Elizabeth's marriage had been floundering, eroded by too much work and not enough togetherness; still, he loves her. So when Alexandra tells him that Elizabeth had been cheating, it all starts to feel like a pile-on. What now? Meanwhile, Matt's cousins eagerly await his decision on another matter: Will he agree to sell the family's land holdings -- inheritance from their Hawaiian royal ancestors -- to a developer?

Is it any good?


THE DESCENDANTS, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, unspools as if on island time, strolling barefoot on the beach with little regard to the clock. The voiceover is superfluous, and the tragic moments are rescued from the brink by humor that's sometimes too on the nose. It might be annoying, were it not for the fact that the film is also a transcendent, emotional powerhouse.


Lay the plots out on paper, and it's unbelievable how director Alexander Payne manages to cram them all in while ensuring that the movie's important moments remain authentic. Bravo! He doesn't hurry the layers as they pile on; he simply allows them to do as they will until the sum total suddenly, completely stuns. The biggest kudos belongs to the cast, who all seem to have simply decided to give themselves over to the characters. Even Clooney does away with his typical sophisticated swagger, clopping along on too-noisy flip-flops, wearing defiantly hokey Hawaiian shirts, and letting the gray settle in. It may be his most vulnerable role yet.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about The Descendants' messages. What is it saying about family? About the role of fathers? Are the characters intended to be role models?

  • How does the movie portray underage drinking? Are the consequences realistic?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:November 16, 2011
DVD release date:March 13, 2012
Cast:Beau Bridges, George Clooney, Shailene Woodley
Director:Alexander Payne
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Run time:115 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:language, including some sexual references

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Kid, 12 years old December 13, 2011

Thought-Provoking and Beautiful Film

I know I've been handing out many positive reviews lately, but only because I know which movies to watch. This is a lovely film. The second half is much better than the first half. That said, it never really drags and has good cinematography, good acting, and absolutely Oscar-worthy editing. Critics don't lie, the public doesn't lie. There are a few concerns for parents, though. Lots of language, and almost all of the language is spoken by teens, so kids may receive mixed messages on profanity. It's very moving, and may even be too sad for younger viewers. It's really not only the language that makes it for older kids or teens; it's also the subject matter. Not for kids anyway, unless the child is very intellectual, intelligent, mature, and patient.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Adult Written bymoviemadness November 26, 2011

This Heavy, Dark Thinking Film is Great -for adults

The Descendants is a great movie that walks the tenuous balance between happiness and darkness and treats its delicate subject matter rawly. You will see each character with their greatness and failures plaid out in broad detain against the backdrop of gorgeous Hawaiian vistas. Truly this is a spectacular movie with fantastic acting, humor, sadness, and forgiveness. Not a movie for children.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 8 and 12 year old Written byLara Liliby December 30, 2011

Subtle, oddly funny movie for older teens

Nuanced performances and frank family discussions make this a good choice for more mature teens. There is much swearing and discussions of infidelity and marriage troubles. Also there is clear reference to the privileges of money and power. The locale of Hawaii is almost like a supporting star, and really captures what I have seen of it. Surprising moments appear like quiet gems every once in awhile to move the story along, but for the most part they are natural and do not seem contrived. The film stayed with me, especially the work of Shailene Woodley and George Clooney. If you liked Up in the Air you will like this movie.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking


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