First off, I have only seen Alexander Payne's Sideways, and I loved it. However, it was only recently since that time, much before I learned to love Alexander Payne.
The Descendants tells of George Clooney playing Matt King, a lawyer and heir to 25 acres of Hawaiian land. However, his wife has had a boating accident, and is in a coma. In one scene, King tells his cousin that he is "trying to keep his head above water". Distraught as he is, he has to take care of his two daughters, and he hardly knows their personality. Scottie, the 10 year old, is an offensive loudmouth who Matt cannot familiarize with. Alexandra, the 17 year old, does drugs and drinks while at private school.
To add on to the problem, Alexandra tells Matt that his wife Elizabeth was cheating on him. This is where the story takes off.
My main complaint with the film is that it starts too slowly, and the King family tree is very sprawled and complex. The acting is top notch, and even though Clooney and Woodley are getting praise, Amara Miller for playing Scottie and Nick Krause for playing Alexandra's friend Sid should be getting more praise. It is those two that deliver the humor in the film, while Woodley and Clooney being the drama. Together, with Payne's Oscar worthy writing, you have a pitch perfect drama-dy.