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Still shot from the movie: The Descendants.

The Descendants

Matt King's (George Clooney) life unravels after his wife (Patricia Hastie) is seriously injured in a boating accident off the Hawaiian Islands. While attempting to connect with his daughters (Shailene Woodley and Amara Miller), the distracted father and husband has to face some painful truths about the relationships he has been neglecting.

Overall Grade: C+
Violence: B
Sexual Content: C
Language: D
Drugs/Alcohol: C
Release Date: 18 Nov 2011
Run Time: 115
MPAA Rating: R

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In-Depth Review

Matt King’s (George Clooney) life may look like paradise. The busy lawyer living in Hawaii is married to a beautiful woman, the father of two daughters, a descendant of a prominent family that owns billions of dollars worth of land, and the controlling trustee of the wealthy estate. Perhaps there was a time when Matt may have thought so too. But it is not today.

Today is the twenty-third one he has spent sitting by his unconscious wife (Patricia Hastie), wondering if she will ever recover from the damaging head injury she sustained during a boating accident. Pulled away from the office and forced to face the possibility of life without her, Matt wonders what he will do. He is especially concerned about his children: one a head-strong, foul-mouthed teen (Shailene Woodley) with a partying problem, the other (Amara Miller) a precocious ten-year-old that enjoys shocking her peers with sexual banter and photos she has taken of her ailing mother.

Although all this seems bad, things are about to get worse. First, Matt is informed that Elizabeth will never wake up, and because of her living will the doctors have a legal obligation to remove her from life support. Second, his relatives (one played by Beau Bridges) are anxious for him to get back to work settling a real estate deal that will make them all multi-millionaires. And finally, his oldest daughter Alex spitefully confesses to knowing her mom was having an affair.

This last item is news for Matt, whose grief is suddenly swallowed up in an obsession to find his wife’s lover and… well, he’s not sure. All he knows is he can’t ask Elizabeth about it and any call to action seems better than waiting by her hospital bed.

This dysfunctional family drama, based on a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, offers some interesting character studies: A methodical man who loses all control of his life, a rebellious adolescent landed with grown-up responsibilities, a neglected child demanding attention, a tag-along teen (Nick Krause) who may not be as dumb as he appears, and a script that pivots around a woman who never utters a word. Setting the story on sun sundrenched beaches also makes a great juxtaposition for the sorrow each is experiencing. Yet, what do they learn? What does the audience learn from them?

While answers may not be in abundance, sexual expletives, crude comments and references to substance abuse are. The prevalent discussions of death and adultery don’t make the film a vacation destination either. Yet older viewers, who are willing to overlook the language, may find amidst this pensive feast some serious food for thought.

Content Details: Beyond the Movie Ratings...

Violence: A tragic accident is mentioned and a woman in a coma is depicted. Some blood is seen during medical procedures. Death, organ donations and removing life support are discussed. Characters argue loudly and make accusations and mild threats. A man punches a teen.

Sexual Content: Characters are frequently seen in bathing suits and string bikinis. Movie posters of scantily clad women are seen on a TV screen. A young girl claims she watched a porno movie at a friend’s house. Sexual language, slang anatomical terms, crude remarks and rude references to puberty are heard. A young girl models her older sisters underwear (bra and panties). Adultery is frequently discussed. A married man kisses a woman who is not his wife. A father questions the relationship between his daughter and her male friend.

Language: Language includes frequent use of a strong sexual expletive (once in a sexual context), a couple of crude hand gestures, scatological slang, terms of Deity and profanities. Disparaging remarks are made about the sick, elderly and mentally challenged.

Drugs and Alcohol: References are made to alcohol abuse and illegal drug use (sometimes involving minors). A drunken teen girl is seen. Adult characters drink in bars and social settings. Cigar smoking is briefly shown.

Discussion Ideas: Talk About the Movie...

In order to protect his children from being spoiled or feeling entitled, Matt lives by the philosophy, “You give your children enough money to do something, but not enough to do nothing.” How do you feel about this idea? Does this plan protect his girls the way he hoped? Why or why not?

Why is Matt afraid to tell his younger daughter the truth about her mother’s condition? How fair is it for him to place so much responsibility on his older child? Why do you think Alex invites her friend Sid to be part of their grieving process?

As Matt tries to come to terms with Elizabeth’s choices, what petty things does he do? When is he noble? What does he learn about himself, his wife and his family as he goes through this process? How does he view these relationships by the end of the film?

How does the character of Elizabeth effect every moment of the story even though she never speaks a word? What things in your life might exert that kind of influence, even if they are silent?

This movie is based on the novel The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings.

Video alternatives

Another father has to tell his children some difficult news about their mother in Grace is Gone. A widowed dad struggles to raise his daughters in Dan in Real Life. Another resident of Hawaii suffers a life altering accident in Soul Surfer. And two orphaned sisters try to hang onto family ties in Lilo and Stitch.

Home Video Notes

Home Video Notes: The Descendants

Release Date: 13 March 2012

The Descendants releases to home video in the following packages:

The Descendants: Blu-ray Combo Pack

- Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy of feature film

- Deleted Scenes with introductions by the director

- Everybody Loves George

- Working with Alexander

- The Real Descendants

- Hawaiian Style

- Casting

- Working with Water

- Music Videos: Will I Ever See You Again, Postcards from Paradise and Honolulu’s Whisper

- Waiting for the Light

- The World Parade – Hawaii (Silent Film)

- A Conversation with George Clooney and Alexander Payne

The Descendants: DVD

- DVD copy of feature film

- Everybody Loves George

- Working with Alexander

- Hawaiian Style

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About the Reviewer: Donna Gustafson

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