Not All Right
The Kids Are All Right ought to be playing directly to my opinions, for the film's goal seems to involve depicting a gay marriage with kids as something normal, every bit as functional and dysfunctional as your typical straight marriage. Add in quirks that bring out the situation's uniqueness, plus make their troubles identifiable, and everything should go smoothly. But the movie actually takes this route too far down into trite territory. When the drama that's manufactured turns out to be as mundane as the drama we see regularly in the mainstream, the whole enterprise turns out to be tedious.
The story starts out with an interesting concept: Joni and Laser (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson), the two teenage children of Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), a lesbian couple, are curious to know the identity of their common biological father, the sperm donor. After they secretly find out he's a local man named Paul (Mark Ruffalo), they meet him and bring him into their family's life. This creates strain, as the controlling Nic not only thinks having him around is a bad idea, she doesn't take to him personally. On the other hand, Jules, who's usually dominated by Nic, is intrigued enough by Paul to have him become the first client in her new landscaping business. Meanwhile, the kids get to know him and become happy in spending time with him.
Such a premise appears fertile grounds for good, subtle drama, as everyone could be working out their push-and-pull feelings in a new and relatively complex sutiation. But subtle doesn't seem to be what The Kids Are All Right is going for. Although I'm about to spoil the key act in the middle of the movie, it's important to mention because it strongly affects the dynamics and direction of the film. So stop reading here if you're planning to watch the movie first. SPOILER: Jules ends up having an affair with Paul.
And right at this point the movie loses me. Throwing in an affair is the loudest, most obvious way to rock the boat in any story about testing the strains of marriage, and when it's used to become the dramatic fulcrum for the rest of the following events, the movie stops being about anything else. That's exactly what happens here, as the movie spirals into a hackneyed drain, complete with confrontations, emotional breakdowns, and character scapegoating. It's also fair to say that the affair feels entirely out of character and somewhat unfair to the characters themselves -- up to that point, Paul was interesting because we were being asked to make up our minds about him on our own.
As for Jules -- she's a lesbian, so why is she having an affair with a man? I'm not saying this isn't a possibility, but unfortunately it feeds into the false beliefs of many homophobes who think that homosexuality is a choice or a "sickness" that can be cured (especially if the right member of the opposite sex came along, right?). This development might have been more acceptable for a more daring movie, but the flow of The Kids Are All Right indicates it wants to play to the middle by depicting a lesbian but otherwise "normal" marriage that mainstream viewers could empathize with. If that's to be done, why offer prejudiced segments of the mainstream ammunition to further arm themselves with?
While my statements may indicate that I have little faith in the audience, if you've been even the slightest bit aware of the current battle for equality for homosexuals, you'd understand my concern. That the director, Lisa Cholodenko, is an open lesbian makes the telling of this story even more baffling. My concern also extends to the premise in the first place -- that the children not only have a curiosity for who their biological father is, but also actually enjoy spending time with him, effectively gaining and benefiting from the father figure they've never had. I know there are people who might feel comfortable with gay marriage but would draw the line on letting them rear children -- and once again the movie ends up proving their point more than the other way around.
In a perfect society, the story in The Kids Are All Right would work decently, only retaining the weaknesses of forcing it onto the track about having an affair. That the movie gets by as well as it does is due to the good acting on display, especially by the three adult leads. Ruffalo does the best job because his charms belie the petty flaws his character was supposed to display (and as a result, his initially likeable character ends up getting the worst treatment by the end of the film). Bening is very convincing, though her character feels like a stereotype otherwise. The combined troupe do a good enough job to make the movie get by, but not enough to mask the huge gears running the story, nor the accidental and ironic anti-progressiveness the movie has the potential to convey.
(Released by Focus Features and rated "R" for strong sexual content, nudity, language and some teen drug and alcohol use.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.