By Don Simpson | July 23, 2010
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Writer: Stuart Blumberg, Lisa Cholodenko
Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are a married lesbian couple – in a humorous bit of self-reflection, Nic and Jules explain that they do not like lesbian porn movies because the actresses are rarely “real” lesbians – who live in Los Angeles with their two teenage children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Both children were biologically “fathered” by the same anonymous sperm donor; Joni was mothered by Nic, Laser by Jules. At Laser’s urging, Joni – the elder child by three years, at eighteen years of age – contacts the sperm bank and tracks down their “father,” the master-sperminator himself, Paul (Mark Ruffalo).
Before their contact with Paul, Nic and Jules and Joni and Laser were just like any traditional family: Joni was a shy and romantically timid teen whose best friend only wanted to talk about sex; Laser was acting very suspicious with his less than suitable hot-dogging bungfucknuts of a best friend Clay (Eddie Hassell); and Nic and Jules were virtually stagnated in their 20+ year marriage. Paul, a college drop-out turned organic farmer and restaurateur specializing in all things local, is the catalyst dropped into this nontraditional family narrative to really shake things up. Nic, the breadwinner and most headstrong of the family, is the least receptive to Paul’s presence, immediately sensing that Paul’s free spirit (he’s a self-proclaimed “doer”) may have adverse affects on the rest of her family. Perceiving Paul as a threat to the family structure she has so rigorously built, Nic fears that she may lose control – she is at least partially correct as Paul instantly builds the necessary confidence within Jules, Joni and Laser so that they can begin thinking for themselves.
Directed and co-written by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon), The Kids Are All Right opts to concentrate more on exaggerated verbal flourishes than literal realism. Nic and Jules speak like hyper-intellectuals prattling on in obtuse liberal bourgeoisie prose (“We just talked conceptually”; “It hasn’t risen to the point of consciousness for you”). Jules’ intellectual façade appears to quickly decay into slacker-speak (not to be confused with the philosophically multifarious Slacker-speak) once she commences her own landscape designing business – suddenly she is spouting things like “a trellisy, hidden garden sort of thing” or “you could go with the Asiany” (and just wait until you hear the things that Nic says to Paul and what Jules says to her Mexican landscaping assistant).
The over-scripted dialogue seems to work in opposition to what I see as the purpose of Cholodenko’s film. We desperately need popular culture (films) to represent gay marriage (and the resulting “nontraditional” family structures) in a positive light; The Kids Are All Right does this, but it could have been so much more effective if Cholodenko (and co-writer Stuart Blumberg) penned more realistic dialogue. (That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the all so clever perfectly manicured dialogue, because I really did.)
Others are angry that Cholodenko is perpetuating the myth that deep down inside lesbians are craving the male penis. I have to admit that I was dismayed by the scene in question. I am however refraining from addressing the scene more directly to avoid spoilers. I will say that it was an unsuspected plot twist (hence my desire to leave it as a surprise for you as well), but it also was not very convincing. The scene seems very uncharacteristic of the two people involved.
But, oh what an acting trio of Bening, Moore and Ruffalo! Bening is very effective in her role as the authoritative workaholic mom; we can easily understand why her family is straying away from her. Moore is quite excellent as the flaky free-spirited Jules; we can easily understand why her family is so annoyed by her. Ruffalo is almost too perfect as the scruffy cool post-hippie who has yet to settle down; it is quite obvious why the moms hate him and the kids love him. Wasikowska and Hutcherson are alright (or all right) as the kids, but they are definitely not given as meaty of dialogue and scenes as their parental triumvirate.
The Kids Are All Right is especially interesting when seen in conjunction with Pamela Paul’s article “Are Fathers Necessary?” in the July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic. Paul writes: “On average, lesbian parents spend more time with their children than fathers do. They rate disputes with their children as less frequent than do hetero couples, and describe co-parenting more compatibly and with greater satisfaction. Their kids perceive their parents to be more available and dependable than do the children of heteros. They also discuss more emotional issues with their parents. They have fewer behavioral problems, and show more interest in and try harder at school.” Paul’s perspective seems a bit more Utopian than Cholodenko, but there are definitely some similarities to be found.