The Kids are All Right
by Clare Burnett
Director: Lisa Cholodenko
Cast: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska
I went with little or no expectations to a screening of ‘The Kids Are All Right.’ Rated well by other critics and on the reputation of director Lisa Cholodenko, however, it definitely deserved a chance.
It tells the story of a couple who have had two children Laser (Hutcherson) and Joni (Wasikowska) by artificial insemination, only to have their world thrown into disorder when Joni, after her eighteenth birthday is persuaded by her younger brother to contact their biological father. It then enters into mid-life crisis territory, and affairs and family breakdown ensue.
A conventional story perhaps, with the only unconventional aspect being that the couple are lesbian life-partners played by Julianne Moore (Jules) and Annette Bening (Nic). A unique concept in Hollywood, and largely convincing in this film, as you would hope from Lisa Cholodenko, who herself is in a life-partnership and also gave birth by artificial insemination. Clearly, she gained massive inspiration from her own life and this is evident in the realistic and witty dialogue of her characters.
Moore and Bening are convincing as a long term couple, with all the accompanying strains, problems and issues. They portray an average upper middle class marriage, a portrayal which may have lost its charm had they been a heterosexual couple; yet here the conventional Hollywood suburban couple is revitalized – and in addition, enables the audience to enjoy the skills of both Bening and Moore. Bening shines as the control-freak dominant partner (reminiscent of her role in American Beauty), whilst Julianne Moore is the air-headed, drifting figure in the relationship. We see a middle-aged couple who, through the dreariness and monotony of long-term married life, have inevitably lost the passion of a younger relationship. The entrance of Mark Ruffalo’s character, Paul, serves to expose these cracks in the veneer of suburban life.
Overall, the central characters are believable – with the exception perhaps of Ruffalo who plays the sperm donor. He tries a bit too hard to be the pseudo-hippy on the charm offensive, both with his biological offspring and their mothers. The idea that a single, slightly pretentious, not-quite-middle-aged restauranteur and lothario would decide to meet teenage children he never knew he had in one phone call seems improbable – as does his relationship with Jules (Moore), supposedly a dedicated lesbian. Not that sexual orientation is set in stone, but this particular relationship does seem unlikely and pretty twisted.
Though not ground breaking, the advent of the alternative family lifestyle has been massively under-represented and under-explored in Hollywood. However, this film shows an idealised version of life with homosexual parents for Hutcherson and Wasikowska’s characters, they seem completely unaware of any social stigma on their mothers’ lifestyle, which is perhaps unrealistic.
Those looking for a deep and serious insight into the social issues that are presented will be disappointed. Seemingly aware of the controversial issue of same sex marriage and homosexual parents, and reluctant to become subversive and profound, ‘The Kids are All Right’ is a light hearted fusion of romantic comedy and family drama.
The audience was perhaps the only major let down of this film, filled with cackling, waterproof-wearing middle-aged women – but altogether the film itself provides a witty, fun, if slightly self-conscious (and at times idealized) look at marriage and family rather than sexual orientation: a definite, though not explosive entrance into the mainstream by Lisa Cholodenko.
The Kids are Alright Trailer