The Kids Are All Right (15)

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
Written by Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
On general release from 29th October 2010

Reviewed by Craig Kell

Ever since the acclaimed success of Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain (2005), Hollywood seems to have now accepted homosexuality as a theme amongst its many films with many actors trying to play those type of roles in order to improve their method acting. But the transition of having a committed lesbian couple involved with a happy family set-up threatened by the presence of an alpha male is something that hasn't been touched upon in film but does come about with Lisa Cholodenko's quirky dramedy The Kids Are All Right. A film that consists of two lesbians and their two teenage kids plus their sperm donor doesn't sound like your typical family film but considering the 'indie' factor, anything is possible and provides satisfactory results.

Lesbian couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are happily married and have a cosy family set-up with their two teenage children; recently turned eighteen year old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and fifteen year old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). Despite the bizarreness of having two mothers, the kids cope well without any attention from a father figure, having been born through the use of a sperm donor. All that is about to change though, when Laser contemplates gaining contact with the donor, who turns out to be an organic food farmer/restaurant owner named Paul (Mark Ruffalo) who also has a reputation of sleeping around with other women. However both he and Joni meet up with their biological father and end up being pleased with the meeting despite its awkwardness. Ultimately they end up letting Nic and Jules know about it, and though disappointed about the kids gaining contact with Paul, the pair themselves meet him too through a dinner at their house. Their perceptions of Paul are different with Nic believing that he is full of himself and sleazy whereas Jules struggles to hide a potential attraction towards him which starts to crave something new and different in her life. The impact of Paul's involvement causes anxiety through the family as his somewhat selfish and free lifestyle influences the kids with Joni beginning to assert her independence whereas Laser starts to see himself as an individual. But it is his chemistry with Jules that only adds to the complication of whether the family unit can stay close when he's in their lives.

What begins as a hilarious comedy becomes increasingly dramatic as conflicts flare and distrust looms. The film deconstructs the average American family and presents us with what is actually a unique family that over time is becoming quite dysfunctional and threatened by a new figure. Without resorting to stereotypes, the film succeeds in making this family seem quite ordinary with the kids constantly embarrassed by their mothers’ emotional need for order. The confusion and awkwardness of adolescence and what the two teenage characters are going through is also shown here and they handle it as best they can in a believable and understandable way. In the acting stakes you have Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in outstanding roles. Both take lead at different points in the film, which is part of what makes Cholodenko's film so effective. Nic and Jules' screen time is balanced and both generate equal sympathy for their characters, so when conflict arises between the two, both sides are clear, and the audience sees where both characters come from. Bening's character though will have her supporters and critics, with Nic being strong and likable yet definitely flawed, though the biggest difference is in the subtlety of her flaws and need to feel in charge of her kids and family. Ruffalo offers a pitch-perfect portrayal of Paul, with his roguish charm generating audience support for an ultimately unlikable character. Wasikowska shows how much range she has right off of her turn as Alice in Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, and it's quite a drastic shift from that film where she was overwhelmed by special effects and creatures and is given a little more to do dramatically. Hutcherson plays someone who does not want to take responsibility for his acts but he ends up displaying the expected transformation into someone who finally understands his mistakes very well.

There are some problems with the film that take away the importance of what Cholodenko is supposed to be displaying. Though the film does well to portray the love and affection in a homosexual relationship, what starts out being about a modern gay family, suddenly becomes a heterosexual film through some graphic sex scenes involving Jules and Paul which makes this feel like a Hollywood film as the same-sex value is tarnished for the sake of having a straight man and a gay woman have sexual intercourse. The ending also seems to be rushed as well as being harsh towards Paul's character, especially when he is the one person made to suffer. The plot sometimes dangles for a little while and then stops short, perhaps, because Cholodenko prefers to stick with her adults than the kids, e.g. Laser's complicated friendship with his selfish mate ends suddenly in the middle of the film.

Of course this film does belong in independent cinema. It isn't a spectacle because the story isn't. There isn't a wasted line and the issues and story are dealt with maturity yet at the same time tenderness; it's never smug nor incredibly harsh. It has great respect for its characters and story because the characters are presented truthfully and honestly; we see that these characters have flaws, but they still are able to grow and mature. If The Social Network had the best adapted screenplay of the year, than The Kids Are All Right certainly has the best original screenplay of the year (so far) with its witty dialogue and interesting characters. The film's greatest strength is its screenplay which despite a couple of plot holes proves it is certainly 'alright'.

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