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The Kids Are All Right

dir: Lisa Cholodenko
[img_assist|nid=1375|title=Insufferable. Utterly insufferable.|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=284]
And here is the last of my reviews of the ten flicks of 2010, nine destined to lose the award for Best Picture, and the one that will doubtless win at the upcoming Academy Awards. I've seen and reviewed all the rest (Toy Story 3, True Grit, Social Network, King’s Speech, Winter’s Bone, Inception, Black Swan, 127 Hours, The Fighter), and felt, for some inexplicable reason, that I had to review the one remaining flick if I was ever going to pretend to have an informed and important opinion about the annual filmic circle jerk scheduled to occur on Monday.

Whoopee for me.

So here’s my review of The Kids Are All Right. Enjoy.

If you permit me to enter the American Culture Wars for a moment, and if you’ll grant me the license to pontificate about the aforementioned despite the clear fact that I have absolutely no stake in that polarising political / ideological bullshit by dint of nationality or geographical location, please just let me say the following: This flick reminds me of how utterly insufferable we are.

Look, I say this as someone who either directly or passively accepts that on the Red State / Blue State, conservative / progressive, Monsanto is evil / McDonalds is Great divide, I completely associate and adhere with one side over the other. It’s just that the rudiments of it, the signifiers, the chai lattes, the smug self-righteousness, the precious preciousness of shopping at organic farmer’s markets, locavore, anti-sweatshop, sustainable / ethical clothing made of vintage hessian sacks stuff drives me up the fucking wall. I infinitely prefer it to the other side, which raises getting outraged, selfishness and a lack of giving a damn about the impact of one’s own actions and choices on other people to a high art form, but I still find us insufferable some times.

Thankfully, one of the characters here agrees with me, and goes on a drunken tirade yelling about how sick she is of composting and organic this and biodynamic that.

The only problem was, after that, I felt bad about having thought ‘my’ side insufferable in the first place, because the character going on about it is pretty obnoxious specifically at that moment, and in general, too.

The Kids Are All Right is a smart title (and reference to the classic Who song), especially because the kids in the flick, at least the two main ones, are all right. It’s the adults who are fucked up.

A brother and sister, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) grow curious about one of the people responsible for their existence. There’s no confusion about their mother, since they have two mothers, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore). But their father was a turkey baster, and that’s never easy, especially when you’re trying to figure out who you are as a teenager.

Laser convinces Joni that they should track down the guy who generously donated his sperm anonymously to a clinic that ended up being used by both of the ladies of the couple in question to produce these darling children.

Instead of turning out to be a homeless guy, or a neo-nazi, or Idi Amin, the biological father ends up being a guy called Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who works in a co-op garden and runs his own restaurant and who rides a motorbike. Oh, and he’s so cool that he gets to bang a hot Foxy Brown lookalike with afro to match, who’s at least twenty years younger than him.

And the kids like him well enough, much as an audience member might want to punch him in his smug face. He’s so self-assured, so full of himself, characters opine, and they’re right.

I’m not sure whether it’s the character or the actor, or whether the two are separable.

The most or at least more important relationship in the flick is meant to be the one between Nic and Jules. Through them play out the dynamics that are anything but unconventional. Except for the brief and alarming scene at the beginning where they have sex while watching man-on-man porn, most of their dynamics play out very conventionally.

You can argue the point or the purpose. Considering the buzz this flick gets only because it’s about a lesbian couple with two kids, if you see it as part of the ongoing attempt to get people to accept the fact that gay people are people too, then it’s an insult to everything evangelical morons hold dear. On the other hand, it could be saying that, shock horror, lesbian couples can be just as insecure, controlling, nagging, needy and bored/boring in their long term relationships as hetero couples, well then this flick will come as a complete surprise to about ten people worldwide.

Of course, that would be too easy a path to take the flick down. We sense early on that there are issues, not fatal ones, in Nic and Jules’ relationship to do with longstanding grudges, patterns of behaviour, expectations and needs gone unfulfilled. I don’t think it would be unfair to characterise Nic as pretty much the ‘man’ of the couple.

As in, ignoring the fact that these are two lovely empowered wealthy lesbian white women living a thoroughly bourgeois existence as only members of a hated minority can, Nic is the husband. She’s a doctor by profession, and the main breadwinner, and she’s controlling and perfectionist. Jules is the stay at home mum, younger (which isn’t insignificant in the dynamics), less sure of herself, underappreciated and looking to define herself now that the kids are growing up. She could be any middle class white woman in America, dealing with issues of wanting to be appreciated for her hotness, and through being admired for what she does to meagrely contribute to the family’s finances.

When Paul enters their lives, with his shit-eating grin and his cavalier attitude towards pretty much everything, it throws everything into turmoil, or at the very least, causes all sorts of stuff to go awry. The kids like him because he’s the cool father who’s never been an impediment to any of their stupid potential decisions, Jules is invigorated by him because he finds her so attractive, and Nic resents him deeply because everyone else likes him so much.

Also, with this ‘man’ now in their lives, who needs her acting like The Man, both figuratively and literally?

Nic’s main issues stem from her inability to control everyone anymore, particularly galling since her iron grip on power had been unassailable until recently. Paul gets to symbolise and be responsible for everything going wrong and her fading grip on the reins of control. The fact that she’s an alcoholic as well either doesn’t help, or makes everything better. You decide.

To describe the flick as having a plot would seem like a tremendous reach. I’m sure the screenplay was painstakingly constructed and every element of the flick was probably storyboarded and blocked to within an inch of its life. It certainly doesn’t feel that way. It all feels like it’s happening organically. It feels like the characters are stumbling into each other and making decisions, good and bad, based on who they are and what they need, rather than what an overarching plot makes them do.

It’s a tremendous skill on the director’s part. This flick is of a piece with everything else I’ve seen by Lisa Cholodenko, whose almost lazy-seeming, rambling features don’t hide the skill she possesses, or the ability she has to get natural seeming performances out of actors. The stories themselves in her films (like this and Laurel Canyon) seem almost unambitious, but she has a deft hand at getting the characters to reveal more about themselves through how they say stuff, or don’t say stuff, rather than what they say.

And of course there’s the whole lesbian thing. Other directors could be rightly mocked for having a flick where a member of a longstanding lesbian couple decides she needs some dick in her life again, after twenty years of lesbian monogamy, but surely if a gay director can handle the concept, then perhaps it isn’t too much of a stretch for the rest of us. There’s always been something of a pansexual vibe to her films, and it fits very neatly into this story as a believable ‘mistake’ someone craving reassurance and sexual affirmation could make.

And, to be honest, it’s not unpleasant to watch a gorgeous redhead like Julianne Moore pretending to have hot sex with Mark Ruffalo. At all. It’s very, very, very not unpleasant at all.

Ahem. Look, elements of the point of this flick are murky to me other than the point that people in relationships a long time sometimes get bored. It’s definitely not, for my money, in a strong year for films, at least compared to those previous nine other flicks mentioned, one of the best flicks of 2010. It was enjoyable, though. I enjoyed seeing these characters do their thing, even if or when I found them annoying, abrasive or frustrating. I still found them believable and likable, and I enjoyed watching their ever-so-conventional drama play out, even if I was left more with good impressions at the end rather than anything substantial to mentally hold on to.

The Kids may or may not be All Right, but I’m sure they’ll be okay in time.

7 times Julianne Moore should have the right to jump back over the fence any time she likes out of 10

“I need your parenting advice like I need a dick in my ass” – your standards of necessity are too high - The Kids Are All Right.