30 Second Review: The Kids Are All Right
30 Second Review: The Kids Are All Right
Directed by Lisa Cholodenko, released July 9, 2010 (USA limited release)
Rated R for sex (don’t take the kids!) and language
I’m not usually one to stand on hyperbole. I sometimes can be accused of exaggerating for dramatic impact, but generally, if I say something is fantastic, I mean it beyond the gush-of-the-moment. So believe me when I say that The Kids Are All Right is a fantastic gem of a movie.
The hype behind The Kids Are All Right has been mainly due to its initial premise: a comedy about what happens when the children of two lesbians seek out their sperm-donor father. But to dismiss this film as a tease-us novelty (or an alternative lifestyle diatribe) would be a grave disservice to the production and to the audience. The Kids Are All Right is, ultimately and thoroughly, about family, and the impact – both chaotic and sublime – that unexpected developments have on ordinary lives. Yes, the parents are lesbians and yes, the father is an acknowledged unknown in the lives of 18 year old Joni and 15 year old Laser. But the family is stable, well adjusted, well off and loving.
Nic and Jules have a comfortable if mundane relationship, much as would be expected of any couple who has been together for over 20 years. Enter free spirit Paul, who isn’t even aware that he has offspring until Joni initiates contact (at Laser’s request). His first meeting with the kids is somewhat awkward, and the interaction might have ended there except that Laser lets it slip to his moms about the contact. With this revelation, Nic and Jules insist on inviting Paul over for dinner, and even though Nic is somewhat guarded, this second meeting is far more comfortable; Paul’s guileless charm and sincere interest wins over the family.
Paul eventually becomes a fixture in their lives. Joni is appreciative of someone who sees her as an adult rather than a golden child while Laser slowly responds to having a guy around to give him a new perspective. Nic still does not quite trust Paul, but she does recognize her own tendency towards being inflexible, so does not stand in the way of his being a part of the family. Jules finds confidence in Paul’s interest in her fledgling landscaping business (he becomes her first client). And Paul starts to realize that he might just be ready for some stability in his life, after all.
Not surprisingly, though, as the family dynamic begins to shift, cracks begin to develop. Joni asserts her independence and openly defies Nic. Both children seek out Paul, leaving Nic with an undercurrent of jealousy and insecurity. And Jules? Jules blossoms under Paul’s attention, and before too long she’s spending less time landscaping his property and instead romping with him between the sheets.
A lot has been made about the sex between Jules and Paul in this film, but there is no reason for consternation. Paul does not have sex with Jules because of any macho bravado at bagging a lesbian, but because not only is he attracted to her physically, he also is drawn to her quirky groundedness (and having consensual sex seems to be the way he is used to relating to women). Jules does not have sex with Paul because she questions her sexuality, but because Paul makes her feel appreciated and valued – a need that Nic has repeatedly swept aside. It all occurs in the spur of the moment, with no thought to consequences – to others, as well as for themselves.
Thankfully, director Lisa Cholodenko handles this indiscretion deftly, without allowing it to devolve into standard melodrama. In the same was that she never allows cheap laughs at the expense of character, she also does not strain our sensibilities with overly wrought resolutions. Humorous or dramatic, all the emotions feel organic, effortlessly growing from the environment and situation; what makes the conflicts so painful are not the tears or recriminations, but in how personally familiar we are with the emotions that simple words and actions evoke (the effect used when Nic comes to the realization of Jules’ infidelity is simple – and acutely devastating).
The acting is uniformly superb. Annette Bening is absolutely masterful as the strong willed yet loving Nic, and Julianne Moore deftly balances the flightiness of Jules with a deeply grounded sense of self. The scenes between these two are at times hilarious and touching; there is never any doubt at their commitment to each other and to their children. Mia Wasikowska gives a wonderful performance as the older sister on the cusp of adulthood, and Josh Hutcherson strikes the right chord as the questioning pre-teen boy in a female household. Mark Ruffalo portrays Paul with an openness and simplicity that is very endearing; he is not so much a villain as he is naïve.
There are so many things that are done right in this film, so much care is given to ensure that the continuity of character, theme and feel does not only span the breath of the film, but the depth of it, as well. The tiniest of gestures speak volumes, the simplest of declarations ring the truest. And being so, it satisfies on a very deep and personal level.
I would have to say of all the wonderful films I have seen this year, The Kids Are All Right is the best of them all. A+, four gold stars, and a hearty endorsement.