THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (2010)
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Rebecca Lawrence, Amy Grabow, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet and Rebecca Lawrence.
Screenplay by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg.
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
Distributed by Focus Features. 104 minutes. Rated R.
Family values come in all flavors, as is demonstrated by writer/director Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon) in this subtle but moving peace of modern American storytelling.
Not to be confused with the late-70s The Who concert documentary, The Kids Are Alright, this film is a quiet slice of life about an aging couple coming to terms with their long-term relationship and their rebellious teens as their oldest daughter prepares to move off to college.
The only thing is, this aging couple is lesbian.
Not that it matters much. Other than a few occasional nods to the women’s sexuality, this could be any family. In fact, the greatest of the film’s many strengths is the way they show a lesbian couple so matter-of-factly that any potential stigmas just seem petty.
This is a family drama. The fact that there are two moms and no dad doesn’t really matter all that much.
And, yet, as it turns out, it matters a whole hell of a lot.
Years earlier, they had decided they wanted children, so each ended up going to a sperm bank and being inseminated a few years apart. However, wanting the children to have the same bloodline, each mother used the same sperm donor.
The daughter is turning 18. The son is 15. Suddenly the boy wants to meet the man who was responsible for giving them life, even though no one in the family has ever met him – and it turns out the guy had no clue his sperm was ever used at all.
The moms, being liberal sorts, say it’s all right even though it is freaking them out a bit. The dad turns out to be a low-key and good-natured guy who runs a natural foods restaurant. The kids meet and befriend him. He tries to ingratiate himself into the whole family, but only goes about opening up some wounds that were closer to the surface than any of them knew.
This description may fool you into believing that The Kids Are All Right is a bit depressing, but nothing could be further from the truth. The film is funny, wise, and compassionate towards all of its characters.
The acting is superb, as Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as the couple, Mark Ruffalo as the donor and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the kids all show the subtle shadings and deep emotions of these fascinating characters.
All the characters make some smart moves, some stupid mistakes and above all are wonderfully recognizably human. It is rare for a film to completely connect to the human condition in the way that this one does – which definitely makes it worth seeking out on its limited release.
Whether you believe in gay marriage or are violently opposed really doesn’t matter. The Kids Are All Right is not a political film. It has no agenda. It is just showing a trying period for one American family. In fact, the decision to not frame this film as a lesbian film may cause this film to casually subvert stereotypes and prejudices in a way that a more militantly gay film would not be able to pull off.
Nic and Jules aren’t a gay couple. They are just a couple. And their story is as endlessly fascinating as that of any family.
The year is only half-way done, but I don’t think that it is too out of line to predict that The Kids Are All Right will make it on a whole hell of a lot year’s best films lists. Deservedly so.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 9, 2010.