The Kids Are All Right
There’s nothing new about showing a family with two same-sex parents. There’s also nothing new about showing a family with two same-sex parents, and treating them as a normal family; opting to play towards universal conflicts, rather than cheap gimmicks and insensitive jokes. But The Kids Are All Right stands out as a uniquely genuine film, by addressing the subject matter carefully, and not letting it slide out of view. In an era where storytelling is growing increasingly half-assed and masturbatory, it’s a welcome relief to see a film as ambitious and uncompromising in the story it’s trying to tell.
It would be easy for director Lisa Cholodenko, who co-wrote the script with Stuart Blumberg, to simply address the lesbian-parent-elephant in the room, and move on, or to ignore it and focus on anything else; the beautiful California summer shots that serve as the backdrop, or the quirky characters that pop up to paint the landscape as well as the actual shots of the landscape do, but that would easy, and that would be a redundant film. Instead Cholodenko manages to bring you into a particular family’s unique world, making sure to carefully develop everyone involved, and then pushes them along so you grow with each of them individually and all of them together.
On top of that, it’s just plain funny. Funny in a matured and reserved Sideways-esque way that fits the style of the film rather than provides a comedic relief during shaky moments when the audience might be getting restless.
The film centers around yin and yang couple Nic and Jules; a perfectionist doctor and her more easygoing “landscape artist” partner, played astonishingly well by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Their children, Joni, named after Joni Mitchell, and Laser, named after a ridiculous name for a child, decide they want to secretly meet the sperm donor that inseminated both of their mothers.
The man turns out to be Paul, a random collection of schmuck clichés thrown together, and made almost too likable by Mark Ruffalo. They all hit it off and it isn’t long until all five are having a delicious organic lunch in the California sunshine. The rapid pace of the beginning of the film, which provided pertinent information by showing glimpses into the characters lives, is replaced by what seems like a commercial for Whole Foods. They each go around the table explaining their individual back stories, and just when you start checking the time and wondering what you walked into, the film begins to take flight you can’t help but get sucked in.
The rapid pace comes back as the relationships between the characters, and their individual relationships outside of each other, constantly develops. This isn’t a film about a group of people dealing with an outside force, or a hero’s journey to answer a central question; it’s a film about a group of people all learning to deal with each other and the growth they make as a result of it.
By the end of the film you haven’t seen just one story. You’ve witnessed five individual journeys and you’ve seen the unique environment that sustains them. You don’t need a billion dollars and a theatre full of screaming teenagers in 3-D glasses to create another world. You just need a crisp script, some great acting, and a director with a bit of patience and a bit of confidence, and The Kids Are All Right has those things in spades.
Starring: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko
Distributor: Focus Features
Running Time: 104 minutes