THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT has been heaped with praise from critics, including significant talk of Oscar nominations. The entire time I was watching the film, I couldn't help but wonder if at least some of that stemmed purely from a need to praise a film for showing a "normal" lesbian family...regardless of the quality of the film. I know viewers (or even just people who read a description of the film) who have problems with gay issues will no doubt bristle at this film and its efforts to "push an agenda." It would be nice if a movie could just be judged for its own merits, apart from political/social concerns...but I suppose that isn't possible.
However, I'd like to try. Because the nice thing about the film is that it DOESN'T really push an agenda. It's just a quirky, indie-spirited film with above average performances and script...full of frustrating characters who do lovely things and stupid things, just like real life.
It tells the story of a long-term lesbian couple (Annette Bening, playing a doctor & Julianne Moore, playing the mom who has trouble settling on anything to do, but is currently trying on a "landscaping designer" hat), who have two teenage kids, Mia Wasikowska, just turned 18 and Josh Hutcherson, around 16. Wasikowska is studious and sincere...darn near what anyone would call the perfect daughter. Hutcherson is more of an athlete and goof-off. He's very nice, but is easily swayed into engaging in inappropriate behavior. Early on, the film implies that he's curious to know what it would be like to have had a father-figure in his life...so he persuades his sister to contact the man who donated the sperm that resulted in him and his sibling. (By the way, one thing the film doesn't get right...the two siblings get along famously and never seem to get on each other's nerves. Sure.) So she calls "dad" (Mark Ruffalo, a restauranteur who also owns an organic farm co-op, drives a BMW motorcycle and is the most laid-back, cuddly, sincere guy around), and the three meet. The meeting goes well, and eventually, to the shock of the two moms, the family of 4 now seems to have a fifth person. While Ruffalo isn't exactly a part of the family, his relationship blossoms with the kids and with Moore (who gets a job redoing his landscaping).
Bening gives the most nuanced performance here. She's the least easy character to like. She's always been the major bread-winner. She's a doctor, so she is naturally a bit of a perfectionist. She tries SO hard to be even-handed and fair, but she's actually a tightly-wound bundle of nerves who would clearly be happier just telling everyone else what do, when to do it, and what to say. She no doubt imagines herself as a "hip & cool" parent, but she's actually super uptight. But underneath it all, we see the deep, abiding love she has for everyone in her family. She CAN be warm and open...but she can be really nasty too, especially when she drinks, which she does too much of. Her character goes through a number of subtle changes throughout the film, and later, when she is wounded...it is her pain that we feel most acutely...even though she is the character we've felt most distant from.
Moore plays a woman who was clearly a bit more of a free spirit in her youth, and that has translated into her feeling a bit adrift in middle age. She's tried several careers, unsuccessfully...and clearly feels some guilt at having not contributed as much financially to the family, yet she also resents being made to feel guilty and foolish. She is more open to Ruffalo's charms, and this causes significant friction.
Ruffalo does his best Mark Ruffalo-like performance. He's a ladies' man who doesn't have to try. He plucks organic tomatoes, he runs a funky restaurant, he drives a truck and wears leather, yet is gentle and passionate at the same time. You can see how women might struggle to resist him...but you have to wonder if someone like him really exists. His best scenes are when he spends some time with his son...you seem him struggling between just being a pal (the easy choice) and being something of a role model (the tricky choice). He enjoys time with his daughter, but she's so together that it's easy for him...it is the son looking for a father-figure that draws out deeper feelings in Ruffalo. He's forced to examine the path his life has taken thus far.
There are many bumpy spots along the road, and naturally many old feelings are aired, wonderful verbal fights are fought and tears are shed in abundance. In the end, what makes the film a cut above the average is the fact that each character is sharply drawn, each has admirable character traits and deep flaws. The actors do a good job, but they also have a good script to rip into.
I've only known a small handful of long-term lesbian couples, and certainly I know nothing about the intimate details of their private lives. Thus, I can't comment on the credibility of the lesbian relationship depicted in THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. But the details of Bening & Moore's love life are fairly specific, and it all FEELS credible. I'll leave it to others who know better to say if it really IS credible. But Bening & Moore have good chemistry, and that certainly helps.
This isn't the greatest film ever (or even the best of the year so far). It didn't take me through a wrenching emotional journey (as it clearly wanted to). But it DID take some unexpected turns, featured great writing and good performances...and for that alone, I can strongly recommend THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg Directed by Lisa Cholodenko Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson and Mark Ruffalo Joni: Each of my mom’s used your sperm. Paul: As in two? As in both of them? Joni: Uh-huh, as in gay. I don’t know if anyone has told you this already but family can be fairly complicated. … more
A few weeks ago, Entertainment Weekly ran a story about how box office numbers are down and it's quite possibly because the quality of movies is down. This, of course, was before Toy Story 3 came out and was both fantastic and hugely successful. One of the points in the EW article was that, at this point last year, five of the ten eventual Best Picture nominees had already been released, including the eventual winner. This year, no movie had yet come out which had any prayer of being nominated. … more
A lesbian couple raising two kids conceived by artificial insemination is pretty much a definition of "unconditional family"... But how things will turn when the children will want to meet their "distant father" the sperm donor? This movie might give the answers you're looking for. It's a very nice build story... the characters are well developed and there's no ridiculous emotional process that they go through. It's an liberating and … more
"The Kids are All Right" is one of the most honest and intelligent films about family, relationships, and the institution of marriage you're likely to see or have ever seen. That the central characters are a lesbian couple doesn't matter in the slightest. Director/co-writer Lisa Cholodenko doesn't sermonize about homophobia or civil unions or moral values, but rather presents a sincere, complex, and universal portrayal an American family - imperfect and at times highly turbulent, but still loving … more
"The Kids Are All Right" Lesbians Raising Children Amos Lassen Nic and Jules are a middle-aged lesbian couple raising two teenagers, Joni and Laser in suburban Los Angeles. All went fine until Joni listens to Laser and decides to find out about her biological father. She investigates, calls the sperm bank who puts her in touch with Paul who is willing to meet the kids that he never knew were his. Paul comes to visit and all "hell … more
If the relationships that anchor Lisa Cholodenko's warmly funny films appear unconventional, their problems--their pleasures--remain universal. InThe Kids Are All Right(no relation to the Who documentary), she takes on a suburban Los Angeles family with two teens, Joni (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska) and the unfortunately named Laser (Josh Hutcherson,The Bridge to Terabithia), and two mothers, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (an atypically relaxed Julianne Moore), who conceived via artificial insemination. Now that she's heading off to college, Laser urges 18-year-old Joni to seek out their birth father, who lives in the area (her name comes from folksinger Mitchell). Though she hits it off with Paul (Mark Ruffalo, effortlessly charming), a motorcycle-riding restaurant owner, Laser has his doubts (troublingly, the 15-year-old's best friend uses "faggot" as an all-purpose epithet). After they introduce Paul to their parents, allegiances start to shift. While Nic, a doctor, serves as breadwinner (and disciplinarian), Jules, a homemaker-turned-landscape artist, provides the nurturing. Paul, on the other hand, lives free from attachments, inciting both curiosity and suspicion. Furthermore, Jules finds him strangely irresistible, which only expands the fissures in her loving, yet unstable union. As withLaurel Canyon, Cholodenko doesn't just create fully rounded characters, but entire communities. In the end,Kidsisn't about children vs. ...