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The Descendants

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
The Descendants Movie Poster Image
Devastating, moving dramedy about death and forgiveness.
  • R
  • 2011
  • 115 minutes
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 18 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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.

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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... Continue reading
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 marri... Continue reading
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 be... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bybeautifuldarkness December 25, 2012

Great for 13 and up!

The Descendants is a VERY touching movie. the whole story bases around George Clooney trying to find out who was having an affair with his wife who is currently... Continue reading

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.

Talk to your kids 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

For kids who love thoughtful movies

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