The Kids are All Right; the Movie is So-So

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore portray lesbians because--as everyone knows--there are no actual lesbians in Hollywood!

The Kids are All Right
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.


Are You Bleeping Me?

Is Captain Kirk corrupting youthful morals?

Man, I’m tried of the bleep from right-wingers, Tea Partiers, and Christian Islamists. I just want them to go away. I don’t have time for their bleep any more.

In their latest I’m-so-shallow-I-must-protest rant, the Loony Right is going after CBS for its new comedy show starring William Shatner, “Bleep, My Dad Says.” The self-proclaimed guardians of American morality say that the word is obscene and endangers the morals of its vulnerable children. In case you don’t know, the word in bleeping question is “shit.” That’s right—let me shout it—S-H-I-T! Close your eyes and say it out loud. There. Now open your eyes. Did American might crumble as a result? Did a neighboring five-year-old lapse into juvenile delinquency and torch your porch?

I guess I can see the concerns of “concerned” parents. I’m sure that word is never used at home. They must protect little Rush from a word he’s not likely to hear in the public realm until late in life—say the second day of pre-school. Talk about a tempest is a Tea Party pot. What kind of— dare I say it?—shithead gets worked up about this? The whole thing would be risible were it not for the fact that the Loony Right owns the media, Congress, and much of the entertainment industry. They are hellbent—sorry another swear embedded in that term—on telling the rest of us what we should do, who we should love, what we can say, and what we can think. If we don’t wake up, America is going to be the Swat Valley writ large.

I propose two immediate responses. First, let’s all use the word “shit” early and often, especially when walking by rightwing churches. Second let’s form an advocacy group and call it SHIT (Send Hypocrites to Infect the Taliban). It might be dangerous to link the American right with the Taliban, but it’s a risk worth taking. Call it the twenty-first-century containment policy: keep all intolerant terrorists in one place.


Fresh Water: The Legacy of Stan Rogers

I’m still reeling that so few people knew about Sandy Denny, but it inspired an idea: every month or so this blog will feature a tribute to an artist who’s no longer performing on this moral coil. Who better to launch this than the late, considerably great Stan Rogers (1949-83) of Ontario?

There are baritones and then there are baritones—Stan’s voice was so robust and rich that he could quiet a wind ripping across the Canadian prairie. But he was no Michael Bolton—when Stan wailed it was because the song demanded it. And he could also wrench more emotion from that deep voice than a shelf-full of weepies. Don’t believe me? Give a listen to “Lock-Keeper” or “First Christmas” and get back to me. (I cry every time I hear "Lock-Keeper.")

Stan Rogers hailed from the Hamilton area and, like so many artists, made a local splash, and cut a few (largely forgettable) singles before recording his first album, the Maritimes-flavored Fogerty’s Cove, in 1976. That one got some money from the Canadian government—yeah, there are still governments that support the arts—and became the first in an ongoing effort to capture the essence of Canada’s regions in song. He did a pretty good job of it before his life was cut short by an airplane accident in 1983. Between 1976 and 1983, Stan recorded five albums and left behind enough material for four posthumous recordings. My personal favorites are the 1979 live album Between the Breaks and From Fresh Water (1984), but you can’t go wrong with any of them. Stan’s repertoire was laced with Canadian folk, Celtic, and sea song influences, though most of what he sang was original material written in traditional styles. And what a writer he was! Feeling blue? “Mary Ellen Carter” sure has plucked me from the doldrums a few times. Want to sing like a pirate? “Barrett’s Privateers” will fit the bill and give you a cautionary tale at the same time. Want some salt in your face? His tribute to the “Bluenose” will answer. Feel like honoring the land? “The Field Behind the Plow” is one of Stan’s many songs that paid tribute to common folks. Fancy a good local tragedy? “Harris and the Mare” will break your heart. And talk about saving your best for last—his final song before his death was "House of Orange," as good a song as ever written on the insanity of Irish religious strife. He also fronted an amazing band that included his brother Garnet—well worth catching when he comes to your area—and standouts such as Grit Laskin and Curly Boy Stubbs.

Stan Rogers was one of twenty-three people who perished on the flight that rewrote aviation laws. He was aboard Air Canada Flight 797 when it was forced to make an emergency landing in Cincinnati because an idiot smoker set the plane on fire. (Why must we always endure such tragedies before we do logical things such as banning smoking on flying hunks of metal loaded with thousands of gallons of fuel?) There are two stories about Stan’s death—one that he died while trying to rescue others, and the second that we was too drunk to get out of his seat. I prefer the first story, but it’s a friggin’ tragedy no matter how you slice it. I had tickets in hand to see Stan just three days after the accident and still hold never having caught him live as among my life regrets. Luckily he left behind a body of work that’s as fresh now as it was three decades ago.