The Descendants

Shailene as: Alexandra King
Genre: Drama
Duration: 110 minutes
Written by: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Kaui Hart Hemmings (novel)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Other cast: George Clooney, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard
Release date: November 16, 2011
Production budget: $20m (estimated)
Total worldwide gross: $177.2m
Filming locations: Kaua’i, Hawaii

From Alexander Payne, the creator of the Oscar®-winning Sideways, The Descendants is set in Hawaii and follows the unpredictable journey of an American family at a crossroads. Matt King (George Clooney), a husband and father of two girls, must re-examine his past and navigate his future when his wife is in a boating accident off Waikiki. He awkwardly attempts to repair his relationship with his daughters – 10 year-old precocious Scottie (Amara Miller) and rebellious 17 year old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) – while wrestling with a decision to sell his family’s land. Handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries, the Kings own some of the last priceless virgin parcels of tropical beach in the islands.

When Alexandra drops the bombshell that her mother was in the midst of a romantic fling at the time of the accident, Matt has to take a whole new look at his life, not to mention his legacy, during a week of momentous decisions. With his girls in tow, he embarks on a haphazard search for his wife’s lover. Along the way, in encounters alternately funny, troublesome and transcendent, he realizes he’s finally on course toward rebuilding his life and family.

Production Info
  • Some of the filming for The Descendants also took place off terra firma – in swimming pools and the ocean. Legendary underwater photographer Don King came in to help with the scene where Shailene Woodley releases a primal scream while at the depths of the family swimming pool.
  • When Matt King describes his inherited wealth, he says, “I don’t want my daughters growing up entitled and spoiled. And I agree with my father; you give your children enough money to do something but not enough to do nothing.” This is based on a well-known quote from billionaire investor Warren Buffett in a 1986 Fortune magazine interview. “Setting up his heirs with a lifetime supply of food stamps just because they came out of the right womb can be harmful for them and is an antisocial act. To him the perfect amount to leave children is ‘enough money so that they would feel they could do anything, but not so much that they could do nothing.'”
  • George Clooney was attracted to the part because he so often has played characters that have their act together. The character of Matt clearly does not.
  • Alexander Payne’s first film in 7 years since winning an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Sideways). He won the same award for this film.
  • One closeup briefly shows Elizabeth’s Punahou School diploma. Punahou School, in Honolulu, is the largest private school in the United States. It was built in 1841 and added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1972. Barack Obama graduated from Punahou School in 1979.
  • In one scene, Elizabeth’s mother is called “tutu”, Hawaiian slang for grandparent.
  • Beau Bridges is very familiar with the Hawaiian islands. He attended the University of Hawaii as a young man.
  • The phone number shown on George Clooney’s character’s BlackBerry for Gold Coast Real Estate – (808) 926-7525 – really is the phone number for Honolulu’s Gold Coast Real Estate, Inc.
  • When the King family are at Lihue airport in Kauai, Matt tells his cousin it’s “just a little holoholo.” In Hawaiian, “holoholo” means “to go out,” usually for a leisurely drive. In the next scene, as the family rides in the cousin’s jeep, lyrics in the musical cue include the phrase “holoholo ka’a,” which means “going for a ride in a car.”
  • Miles Teller auditioned and was one of the final choices to play Sid, but in the end lost the role to Nick Krause.
  • Amara Miller wasn’t cast until two weeks prior to the start of production.
  • Both Kristen Stewart and Amanda Seyfried reportedly auditioned for the role of Alexandra King.
  • Shailene Woodley was working at American Apparel in New York City when she auditioned for the role of Alexandra. She found out that she had the part in January 2010, and had to promptly quit the job to begin filming.
  • Character Quotes
  • So what? What if I got drunk on the one night you happened to stop by? So f*cking what?
  • You want me to go around with you and tell people that Mom’s gonna die? What’s the point of that? Breaking the news, watching them cry, dealing with their emotions? How depressing is that gonna be? Just call them.
  • Hi, Mom. Sorry for being bad. Sorry for wasting your money on expensive private schools. Money you could’ve been using on facials and massages, and sports equipment. Sorry for everything. I’m sorry that we weren’t good enough for you, especially Dad.
  • Just drop it, Dad. You’ve got way bigger fish to fry than confronting f*cking Brian Speer.
  • Hey, Scottie. Reina’s a f*cked-up ho-bag and you need to stay away from her. She’s going to be a methhead and she’s gonna get used by stupid guys. She’s a twat. Say it. She’s a twat.
  • Matt: You need to come home and see your mom.
    Alexandra: F*ck Mom.
  • Matt: How you feeling? Hung over? Why am I not surprised? I thought you were supposed to be getting your act together.
    Alexandra: I have gotten my act together. I was just drinking. I’ve been doing really well, actually. Nobody ever seems to notice that. Grades are better. I was in that stupid play that you guys didn’t even bother to see. Do you even remember the name of it? (Matt shrugs) That’s what I thought.
  • (Scottie gives Matt the finger)
    Alexandra: Real good job you’re doing.
    Matt: That’s part of why I brought you here. You have to help me. I don’t know what to do with her.
    Alexandra: Maybe if you spent more time with her, she wouldn’t act like such a complete spaz. Get her out of town. Go camp on Kauai. That’s what Mom used to do with me whenever I was losing it.
  • Matt: Alex, nobody wants to do any of this. But we have to tell your grandpa and Tutu and a few friends. They have the right to know, and they have the right to say goodbye.
    Alexandra: I don’t wanna talk about Mom with anyone.
    Matt: Look, whatever you two fought about over Christmas, you have to drop it. Grow up. You love your mother, your mother loves you.
    Alexandra: I can’t drop it.
    Matt: You have to.
    Alexandra: You really don’t have a clue, do you? Dad… Dad, Mom was cheating on you. That is what we fought about. When I was home at Christmas, I caught her with a guy. It made me sick to see her near you. I went back to school thinking that that was it, that I was just done with her. I was gonna call and tell you everything and then the accident happened and… (crying) I was waiting until she woke up, I guess. You didn’t even suspect, right? Right? That disgusted me too. You’re always so busy.
    Matt: “Caught her with a guy,” what does that mean?
    Alexandra: I was on my way to swim in the Black Point pool with Brandy and suddenly I see Mom and some douche bag walking into a house. His house, I guess.
    Matt: Just some guy, it could be anybody.
    Alexandra: No, he had his hand on her ass. It was gross.
    Matt: Then what?
    Alexandra: Then nothing. Then they went into the house. A few days later, I told her I knew what she was doing.
    Matt: And?
    Alexandra: And first, she acted like she had no idea what I was talking about. Like I’m f*cking blind. And then she got, like, super mad and yelled and denied it. That was when I decided that I didn’t want anything more to do with her.
  • Alexandra: Dad, Sid’s coming with us, okay?
    Matt: Yeah, listen, Sid, what’s going on this week is really a family matter, you understand? (to Alexandra) Sid’s not gonna be interested in meeting your grandparents. He’s gonna be bored stiff.
    Alexandra: Dad, I told you that he was gonna be with me. I’ll be a lot more civil with him around.
  • Alexandra: Did you just spank me?
    Matt: You have no right to talk to your mother that way. She’s gonna die in a few days. What if those were your last words?
    Alexandra: I have every right to speak to her that way. I’m angry at her. How can you be so forgiving?
  • Alexandra: Scottie, what did she mean by “You aren’t a liar after all”? What did she think you were lying about?
    Scottie: She didn’t believe Mom was sleeping.
    Alexandra: So you had to prove to that twat that Mom’s in a coma? What the f*ck is in your skull? A bunch of stupid pills?
  • Matt: I’m sorry for sucking you into this. I should be doing it alone. It’s selfish.
    Alexandra: I’m the one who sucked you in. I’m the one who knew.
  • Quoting: Shailene Woodley

    on her character: She starts out as a teenager who feels like a victim – to her, the reason why her life is horrible is because her dad did this and her mom did that. But during the course of the movie, she starts to realize that she’s responsible for her own happiness and it isn’t up to her parents. It’s fun to watch her grow up in the moment. She’s always been a bit manipulative but now she’s doing it to help her dad fight his demons.

    on Alexandra’s reaction to her mother’s condition: She’s in the pool, treading water and she has no idea how to react to this news. She feels trapped, so she submerges herself into the water, the one place where she can scream at the top of her lungs and not feel vulnerable. It was such an emotional release to go down there and scream and cry hysterically. It was heartbreaking for me to do, but also empowering.

    on Alexandra’s relationship with her father: I think she loves her dad but she kind of looks at him as the childish one in their relationship and she’s always felt like she needed to take on a parenting role with him. It’s only later that she learns to give him his own power as a father.

    on Alexandra’s relationship with her mother: I think part of Alexandra hates her mom and part of her just wants to be held and cry in her mother’s arms for hours. It is very emotional. I think the little girl in Alexandra just yearns for the mother she always wanted but never had, but the young woman in Alexandra is starting to accept that it will never happen.

    on her love of the script: It’s a heart-wrenching journey about growth. I love how everybody in the story grows in their ability to love, grows in maturity, in figuring out their individuality and who they are as a family.

    on the source material: I read the book after I got the job. It’s such a good book. That writer is so phenomenal. A lot of the best lines in the film were straight adaptions from the book. The scene where King says that the most powerful men in Hawaii look like stuntmen or bums was from the book. Everything Scottie says is from the book. She’s a brilliant writer. For me, since the book was 250 pages and the script was 100 pages, it fills in the blanks and got me some back history without having to make it up.

    on the most challenging scene: There was a scene that got deleted — it’s on the DVD, but it did get deleted — where my character smokes a cigarette, and I had no prior experience smoking cigarettes, so that was probably my most challenging scene. I was nervous about whether I was going to do it right.

    on working with co-star George Clooney: He turned out to be completely down-to-earth. He’s kind of a goofball, always doing something silly, which kept the set light. I felt privileged not only to work with him, but to get to know him.

    on working with co-star Nick Krause: Nick and I are the same age, so we bonded immediately. He’s from Texas, and I’m from L.A. We’re very different, in a lot of ways, and very similar, in a lot of ways, so it was great. We had a lot to teach each other, and a lot to learn from each other. We both love to be outdoors and be active and explore, so in every spare second on the movie, we were hiking or kayaking or snorkeling, or doing some crazy thing, like jumping off waterfalls, that we shouldn’t have been doing. My bonding with Nick was a very organic process. We became like brother and sister.

    on working with co-star Amara Miller: Amara Miller was 10, when we filmed the movie, and she’s almost 12 now. She had never been in a school play. She was a friend of a friend of Alexander’s, and she was cast a week and a half before we started shooting. It was crazy. She’d never even thought about acting. Her mom was like, “Amara, let’s put your audition on tape,” and she was like, “What’s an audition? Okay.” She has such a strong sense of self. She’s an old soul in a 10-year-old’s body, but also very much a 10-year-old. We’d be filming and she’d be swinging her arms around and scratching her ear. You’re like, “Oh, my god, we’re making a movie,” but sometimes it worked because she wasn’t jaded. She’s incredible, and we bonded very quickly, in a very natural way. Nick Krause, Amara and I just became a little family.

    on working with director Alexander Payne: Alexander is up there with a few of the favorite people I’ve ever met in my life. He’s got such heart and I’ve learned from him as a director and as a person. When he gets excited, he doesn’t hold it in. He literally jumps up and down and talks in this funky voice and goes up and hugs people. You can’t help but feel excited about life when you’re around him. He possesses a great energy and definitely shows it to other people. As a director, he helped me find things about myself that I never thought I could find. He might say, ‘Oh, Shai, I don’t think that’s natural, you would never do that in real life.’ That’s how he brings out the best in people.

    Quoting: Cast and Crew

    Director Alexander Payne: She has chops but still reads like an actual honest-to-God kid. A lot of people you audition who have chops are too polished. And a lot of people who aren’t polished at all don’t have the chops. So thank God I found her. And she’s the only one—there was no also-ran. […] Shailene’s lovely and positive but more important to me is that she’s a fantastic actress. I was looking for a young Debra Winger – someone with fire and someone with vulnerability and she had it.

    Co-star George Clooney: She really elevates that role from a stereotype. You can write and direct it. But at the end of the day, someone has to play it.

    Author Kaui Hart Hemmings: Shailene Woodley is just as deserving of all of the awards that any big star has ever won. She is just incredibly gifted with a good head on her shoulders. […] I couldn’t think of an actress who could have done it any better. She wasn’t a star back then, and it’s exciting that that’s where it started.

    Critical Response

    Claudia Puig, USA Today:

    Clooney’s performance is Oscar-worthy, as is that of Shailene Woodley, who plays the elder of his two rebellious daughters, 17-year-old Alexandra. Woodley and Clooney’s scenes, as they bond over a shared obsession, are the film’s comic highlight.

    Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

    The scene in which Alexandra sprawls on a sofa and slams her clueless dad with a catalog of domestic betrayals is devastating. Dynamite is the word for Woodley (TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager), who deserves to join Clooney and the movie on the march to awards glory.

    A.O. Scott, New York Times:

    Mr. Clooney, bolstered by his effortless magnetism, has always been an excellent ensemble player, and while he is at the center of “The Descendants,” he does not dominate the movie. Everyone in it is wonderful: Ms. Woodley (“The Secret Life of the American Teenager”), giving one of the toughest, smartest, most credible adolescent performances in recent memory.

    Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter:

    […] Similarly essential to the venture’s success is Woodley, who transforms convincingly from a girl who is reflexively condescending toward her father to one who becomes his eager accomplice and staunchest defender

    Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times:

    Shailene Woodley stands out and is appealing beguiling: an anti-Gossip Girl. Like a great silent film actress, she has a face that conveys shades of anguish and joy.

    Peter Debruge, Variety:

    Woodley, best known for her work on ABC Family’s soapy “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” is a revelation in the role of Alex, displaying both the edge and depth the role demands. At face value, she appears to be going through a rebellious phase, but as the story unfolds, she proves to be the strong one, wiser than she appears and potentially better equipped to deal with the tragedy at hand.

    Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal:

    Alexandra considers her father a clueless fool who hasn’t paid attention to her or his marriage. She’s played, phenomenally well, by Shailene Woodley, as a troubled spirit with a heavy cargo of hurt and anger. You could make a case for Alexandra rather than Matt as the story’s protagonist. She’s the driving force who jolts her father out of his confusion, points him in the right direction, moves him along and finally flies in the face of all that Shakespearean stuff about ungrateful daughters.

    Awards and Nominations

    Below is a list of all accolades Shailene has received for her role in the film.

    NOMINATED: Alliance of Women Film Journalists – Best Breakthrough Performance
    NOMINATED: Alliance of Women Film Journalists – Best Ensemble Cast
    NOMINATED: Awards Circuit Community Awards – Best Actress in a Supporting Role
    NOMINATED: Central Ohio Film Critics Association – Best Ensemble
    NOMINATED: Central Ohio Film Critics Association – Breakthrough Film Artist
    NOMINATED: Chicago Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Chicago Film Critics Association Awards – Most Promising Performer
    NOMINATED: Chlotrudis Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Critics’ Choice Awards – Best Acting Ensemble
    NOMINATED: Critics’ Choice Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Critics’ Choice Awards – Best Young Actor/Actress
    NOMINATED: Denver Film Critics Society – Best Breakout Star
    NOMINATED: Georgia Film Critics Association – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Gold Derby Awards – Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Golden Globe Awards – Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
    NOMINATED: Gotham Independent Film Awards – Best Ensemble Performance
    NOMINATED: Gotham Independent Film Awards – Breakthrough Actor
    NOMINATED: Indiewire Critics’ Poll – Best Supporting Performance
    NOMINATED: Iowa Film Critics Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: National Society of Film Critics Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Online Film & Television Association – Best Ensemble
    NOMINATED: Online Film & Television Association – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Online Film Critics Society Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards – Best Actress in a Supporting Role
    NOMINATED: Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards – Breakout on Camera
    NOMINATED: Screen Actors Guild Awards – Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
    NOMINATED: Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards – Best Ensemble
    NOMINATED: Southeastern Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Toronto Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Vancouver Film Critics Circle – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Village Voice Film Poll – Best Supporting Actress
    NOMINATED: Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress

    WON: Central Ohio Film Critics Association – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: Denver Film Critics Society – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: Film Independent Spirit Awards – Best Supporting Female
    WON: Florida Film Critics Circle Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: Hamptons International Film Festival – Breakthrough Performer
    WON: Houston Film Critics Society Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: MTV Movie Awards – Breakthrough Performance
    WON: National Board of Review – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: San Diego Film Critics Society Awards – Best Supporting Actress
    WON: St. Louis Film Critics Association – Best Supporting Actress (tied with Octavia Spencer for The Help)
    WON: Women Film Critics Circle Awards – Best Young Actress