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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Revelations of infidelity and discussions about halted sex lives. A man kisses another man's wife.
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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.
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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.
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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. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.