The Kids are All Right (2010)
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko
106 mins. Rated R for sexual themes, nudity, language.
* * ½
Hollywood just doesn’t get the fact that it’s posterity that gets to declare a film “pathbreaking,” not its PR departments. Its most recent attempt to be “relevant” and “important” is this summer’s The Kids are All Right. As you’ve no doubt heard ad nauseam, the idea behind this film is to show a “normal” American family that just happens to be headed by lesbians. Yeah, right—as if lesbianism wasn't the titillating hook that lures fannies into the seats. The good news is that it’s not bad, though it’s not nearly as good as reviewers seeking to enhance their politically correct chops have declared it to be. It’s really what most Hollywood movies are these days, an imperfectly scripted (and telegraphed) story that’s mildly diverting, but whose depth is that of a sheet of 8 ½ by 11.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are an old married couple—the kind that cares for each other, but whose former flaming passion is now more an occasional spark amidst the humdrum of tired patterns and prosaic tasks. They’re basically just trying to raise their kids, eighteen-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and fifteen-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson). They worry about the things all couples worry about: Laser’s inappropriate friend, getting Joni ready for college in the fall, how to recharge their sex life, which varietal wine to choose for dinner…. Life is fairly routine until Laser decides he wants to locate his and Joni’s father. Well… not father—sperm donor. Soon into their lives intrudes Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a free-spirited organic farmer who begins to think that maybe he ought to stop being such a hippie and maybe give surrogate fatherhood a whirl. And it might work, if only he could stop putting the moves on Jules. To say more would give away some of the movie’s few surprises, but if you’ve seen any Hollywood films you know that mayhem and complications will ensue.
There are some good things in the film. The kids are, indeed, all right; in fact, they’re way more convincing than the adults, largely because they speak like real people might. Wasikowska is considerably more than all right; she’s a revelation. She uses her straight-haired, waif-like body perfectly to portray what she’s supposed to be—not really a kid and not really an adult. She’s in that liminal space where she desperately wants independence, but she’s scared of it and she's not quite comfortable in her adult skin. Give this young lady some serious work; she’s a star waiting to happen. Hutcherson’s not bad either, though he doesn’t have as much to do. And whoever wrote Julianne Moore’s dialogue did a pretty decent job of it in the sense that her apologies and explanations ring true in real-life ways; that is, there are no swelling strings in the background and she utters no overwrought speeches oozing histrionic eloquence.
Wish the same could be said about Bening. Her lines often sound as if they were crafted by a committee headed by Woody Allen. She gets most of the zingers, several of which are witty, but the things she says are about as real as Dolly Parton’s hair. Nor are she and Moore particularly convincing as a lesbian couple. What, Hollywood couldn’t find any real lesbians? (How about Cynthia Nixon, who would have been much better than Bening?) Who knew that lesbian foreplay involved watching gay male porno? Several reviewers have blasted the script for this and that scorn is justified. Ruffalo is pretty good, but his entire role is preposterous. Indeed, one might say that he’s there to sensationalize the movie. After all, if you made a film about a “normal” lesbian couple it would be no more interesting than remaking a 50s’ TV show as “Harriet and Harriet.”
Without the weirdness there is no movie here. I suppose we can call it a measure of enlightenment that lesbians are fair game in the triteness stakes, but let’s not get carried away and think that The Kids are All Right is this generation’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? We can applaud Cholodenko’s effort to cast lesbians as just folks struggling to make sense of life, but this film is more like a string of patio lights than a path-blazer.