The Descendants – Script Review

May 17, 2013 by     2 Comments    Posted under: Script Reviews

Descendants-1Hi all.

This one’s long overdue, I know.

Let’s get right into it.

Will this script be a gem of a sale that everyone’s talking about, or a diamond in the rough left for the few that have the opportunity to read it?

(The biggest problem I had with this script is I kept typing Descendents when it’s Descendants. The file is misspelled which probably didn’t help, lol.)

Don’t forget to check out the script here.

1.) Marketability of the Idea

This is one of those stories that walks the fence between two genres, but doesn’t quite fit in either.

Is it a romantic comedy with a very dramatic element, or is it a drama laced with dark romantic comedy?

My guess would be the latter, and it definitely has an interesting premise. A husband finds out his dying, comatose wife was cheating on him.

I’m listening…

2.) Plot Stability

The overall plot is interesting enough.

Matt’s wife Elizabeth is in a coma, and will soon be taken off life support.

He brings his daughters home so they can deal with it as a family. One problem though, they’re pretty dysfunctional.

Matt’s oldest daughter, Alexandra, comes home and admits Elizabeth was cheating on Matt. When he questions Elizabeth’s friends he finds out this is true, and that Elizabeth was planning on leaving him.

He then goes on a quest, with his daughters, to track down and confront his wife’s lover, Brian.

Again, when I break it down simply like that it sounds fine, but the problem is the implementation.

The story isn’t necessarily episodic, as much as it’s just characters going through the motions set up by the author.

In addition to that, the B story is about Matt and his cousins selling off this large chunk of land that will net them millions. All of Hawaii is abuzz about it. This leads to more plot problems as it doesn’t really fit, nor do his actions seem genuine in relation to the land deal.

20 Questions: Land Deal Edition

Page 18.

Barb is the mother of one of the girls in Matt’s youngest daughter’s, Scottie, class. There’s some problems between the girls, and Barb wants Scottie to apologize. Matt obliges, which in itself seems rather silly given everything he has on his plate, what with a comatose wife and all. At the end though, Barb asks what Matt plans on doing with the land, and it all seems like a setup just so Barb could get some inside info.

Page 102.

Scott, Elizabeth’s father, is coming to say his farewells to her, and he has to ask about the land deal? He’s saying GOODBYE to his DYING daughter. It’s FORCED in with the excuse that Scott is blaming Matt for being cheap, and that somehow if he would have bought Elizabeth a boat she would have never had her accident.

The problem with this, and the whole land deal talk in general is that it makes for a happy ending, when Matt chooses to preserve it, but doesn’t fit in with the rest of the story.

What’s the motivation for Barb needing to know?

How could having her own boat have prevented Elizabeth’s accident when she wasn’t even the one driving in the first place?

If it’s going to be an important part of the story, it needs to be more than just a quick cash windfall for the cousins. It has to affect every person on the island. That way when people ask about it, we know WHY they’re asking and causing additional drama for Matt.

Page 109.

Matt decides to keep the land.

The problem with that decision, he has no real reason to do so.

It’s a toss up, since there’s no clear cut incident that leads to his decision. It just comes to him, as do most of his main plot decisions, out of the blue.

Did he do it to spite Brian?

Or is it a feel good ending that we kind of think he’s keeping it because the girls had one or two good times there with Elizabeth?

Unfortunately, he’s just as clueless with what they’re going to do with it as he seems initially.

He more or less just kicks the can down the road.

Tying Things In

Brian is Elizabeth’s lover, who was also the real estate agent who stood to gain the most by Matt and cousins selling the land to a local developer.

That was interesting, and a good example of maximizing conflict with character relationships.

The other thing I liked was Matt buys, and then throws out, post cards with Alexandra on it. (She’s a model like her mother.) He tells the clerk she’s “underage” and that they shouldn’t be for sale in a hospital.

SADLY, he only does it that one time, and it’s a plot device that should have been carried throughout the whole story so despite how he interacts with his daughters we know that deep down he cares for them.

Good Plot

I liked Matt’s backstory, about how he and his family came to own the land that they do around Hawaii.

Also very interesting that things just kept getting worse for him. No sooner had he found out that his wife is dying, then he also discovers she was cheating on him and planning on filing for a divorce.

During his “all is lost moment” it’s funny how Matt turns to Sid, Alex’s male “friend,” for advice.

Lastly, and probably my favorite plot device, Matt’s overall goal is to keep Scottie and Alex grounded despite all the wealth he’s inherited. Unfortunately, he only succeeds in alienating them which results in their flawed nature.

descendants-23.) Quality of Characters

Matt, Alex, Scottie, and Sid were all odd.

Problem was they weren’t odd in unique ways.

Did they act normal? Absolutely not, but it wasn’t abnormal in an interesting way.

Scottie and Alex started out interesting in how messed up they were, but the further I read the more annoyed I became with them. The one thing I kept thinking was how I hope my own two daughters don’t talk to me that way some day.

Matt was the most likeable, in that I felt bad for him that he was more or less the heel of the story.

He needed to arc more with the girls, though. We go from him being a bad father in the beginning, to them sharing ice cream on the couch at the end as a happy trio. Even the death of Elizabeth doesn’t seem to be a true glue that will bring them together, and confronting Brian is too minor a victory, if you can even call it that.

4.) Dialogue and Description

Page 2:

MATT (V.O.)
My friends on the mainland think just
because I live in Hawai’i, I live in
paradise. Like a permanent vacation –
we’re all just out here drinking maitais,
shaking our hips, and catching
waves. Are they nuts? How can they
possibly think our families are less
screwed up, our heart attacks and
cancers less fatal, our grief less
devastating? Hell, I haven’t been on a
surfboard in fifteen years.

MATT (V.O.)
For the last 23 days, I’ve been living
in a “paradise” of IVs and urine bags
and endotracheal tubes and six-monthold
US magazines. Paradise. Paradise
can go fuck itself.

This script started on such a high note for me with this little nugget of dialogue.

It was great, and set the tone for Matt’s thoughts and some of what he says.

Too bad it more or less went down hill from there. (Not a good thing on page 2, lol.)

Sure the girls said things in “the most unique way possible,” but it didn’t add anything to the story and was shocking for the sake of being shocking.

Most of the dialogue was hollow, like this apology from page 90:

ALEXANDRA
You’ll think of something. You’re a
lawyer.

MATT
I’m sorry for sucking you into this. I
should be doing this alone. It’s
selfish of me.

ALEXANDRA
I’m the one who sucked you in. I’m the
one who knew.

It felt devoid of any feeling.

The description however was surprisingly good.

Where that “fuck paradise” tone carried through was with Matt’s actions and thoughts.

Page 5:

Matt stares aghast at this specimen called his daughter.

Page 22:

Organ donation? Forgot about that one.

Page 88:

Matt looks around the room, alienated from everything — from the fried food and the tourists, from the umbrellas in the drinks, from his daughters enjoying the music and this cretin called Sid.

Why can’t a nuclear bomb blow the whole island up right now?

When taken in context, Matt’s reactions make PERFECT sense, and it saves time writing these kinds of “unfilmables.” Presenting ourselves through a unique tone will score us points with professional readers.

5.) Format

It had scene numbers and some other stuff we don’t need to do for specs, but overall there wasn’t much wrong.

The only odd thing I made note of was on page 48. All the dialogue was suddenly “Off Camera.” I don’t think it was meant to be since the characters were actually doing things as they talked.

Descendants-36.) What can this script teach us?

Give them just enough money to do something, but not enough money to do nothing.

This is the philosophy that Matt’s dad used that made Matt a go-getter.

It’s good advice, and something Matt wanted to instill in his daughters.

What we should take away though is that in addition to money, kids also need a bit of attention and love.

7.) What, if anything, should we avoid emulating?

This one I’m not so sure on.

I don’t know where this script went terribly wrong for me, especially when I look at the scores on IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes.

Maybe I’m missing something, or dark comedy just isn’t my thing, but the script was underwhelming.

Perhaps George Clooney’s delivery was something along the lines of this, that salvaged the whole thing.

The biggest concern I want you to take away is to make sure your plot works, and that the subplot ties in.

Get us from point A to B in a logical manner, don’t just make things happen because you want them to.

Rating: Read this if you want to know how NOT to have your children talk to you.

2 Comments + Add Comment

  • I agree with your review a lot. I did not like the script or the movie as much as most.

    This script did teach me something very important and it’s especially true with comedy. The old 3 being better than 2.

    I couldn’t figure out why Sid (the stoner, goof-off) gets dragged around so much. He not particular likable or close to anyone other than the older daughter. He’s sometimes Dr. Watson but not always. I think Sid’s there because a lot of scenes just work much better with 3 people. This script illustrates the concept really well.

  • I think the stoner is what Alexander Mackendrick in his Cal Arts classes called a “foil,” that is, a character of no intrinsic value but who helps illuminate the character or motivations of others, or who adds a little fuel to the narrative at key points.

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