Like Alexander Payne's previous films (Citizen Ruth, Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways), The Descendants is a perfect blend of drama and humor. Writer-director Payne, who co-wrote this film with Nat Faxon (The Cleveland Show) and Jim Rash (Community) and based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings, manages to understand humanity and all of its problems while still taking a witty approach that supports his sensibilities as a storyteller.
The movie is full of rich characters and with such a strong screenplay having created them, Payne exemplifies a great understanding of the right kind of mood for this story to have the strongest effect. Looking at his filmography as a whole, he has demonstrated a singular vision that can bend to the needs of the story, but will always be executed in an unique fashion. I look at him as a master of comedic-dramas or dramatic-comedies or whatever you want to call it.
The Descendants follows Matt King (George Clooney) and his daughters Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) and Scottie (Amara King). Matt's wife was injured in a boating accident and is now in a coma. Matt plans on taking his daughters around to talk to his wife's family and friends to prepare them for the worst case scenario. This is all while Matt's own side of the family is attempting to sell some land they've inherited from their ancestors.
All of Payne's films have dealt with people dealing with the acceptance of their true feelings and even then the movie never manages to villify any of these characters (with Robert Forster, Matthew Lillard, Nick Krause, Judy Greer, and Beau Bridges rounding out the cast) because they are all as flawed as anyone else would be in these given circumstances.
In another great performance, Clooney is able to show us a fearful and weary man who is trying to rediscover what his family means to him. He keeps his business and emotions separate, but the two then begin to enter each other's circles. Woodley is fantastic in how sharp of a daughter she can play (rare for teenage characters in films). There are moments in this film that will place you on the edge of tearing up while others that will have you smirk in appreciation.