Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: "The Kids Are All Right" is Alright

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 4 (of 2011) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Kids Are All Right (2010)
Running time: 106 minutes (1 hour, 46 minutes)
MPAA – R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use
DIRECTOR: Lisa Cholodenko
WRITERS: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
PRODUCERS: Gary Gilbert, Philippe Hellmann, Jordan Horowitz, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, Celine Rattray, and Daniela Taplin Lundberg
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Igor Jadue-Lillo (D.o.P.)
EDITOR: Jeffrey M. Werner
COMPOSER: Carter Burwell


Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet, and Joaquin Garrido

The Kids Are All Right is a domestic drama, but isn’t like other dramas about the American nuclear family. Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, the film focuses on a family lead by sax-sex parents who discover that their children have found their biological father.

Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) are a lesbian couple living in California. Each gave birth to a child via the same anonymous sperm donor. As she prepares to leave for college, 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) acquiesces to a request by her brother, 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson), to discover the identity of their sperm donor dad. What they find is a small businessman living a bohemian lifestyle, and soon this person by the name of Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is part of the family. But how will he fit in, if he should fit in at all?

In some ways, The Kids Are All Right is sly. With its depictions of affairs, couples squabbling, marital sex, sullen teens, and assorted household dynamics and relationship dysfunction, the film seems to be the average family melodrama. However, the family at the heart of this film is not a normal family, as we generally think of what a normal family should be. Perhaps, the film’s writers, Stuart Blumber and director Lisa Cholodenko, tell this story in the way they do to show that a family headed by a same-sex couple will pretty much have the same ups and downs of a family headed by a man and his wife. This may be their sly and clever way of saying that gay couples are the same as straight couples. Well, they’re not, and that’s just fine.

In an attempt to create an average family drama around a same-sex couple, this film often seems contrived and even a little melodramatic. The Kids Are All Right is certainly a good film, with many fine performances. Annette Bening, who gives a layered and textured performance, however, stands out as genuine, real, and gritty in a film that seems too pat. Bening seems to embody the narrative’s urge to be more than just another indie drama, one with a need to be a carbon copy family dramedy with the straight parents swapped out for a gay couple.

In fact, The Kids Are All Right is really not about the children, which is disappointing because they are such good characters. Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson also give the kind of performances as Joni and Laser, respectively, that makes you really want to get to know them much more than you do.

This is not to say that the film is glaringly deficient. One of the things that makes it so attractive is that both the story and the characters seem to be searching for something more or something that is missing. Its charm is the same-sex nuclear family masquerading as straights, but the writers seem reticent about tearing off the masks and showing something different and really new. The Kids Are All Right, but everything could have been so much more.

7 of 10

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


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