A blog about movies and filmmaking.

Shut The Front Door, The Kids Are All Right

In comedy, drama on July 8, 2010 at 10:45 pm

So far this Summer has seen two great romantic-comedy / familial melodramas, first in the guise of CYRUS. A movie about a single mom who has spent far too much time coddling her now adult son and the effect a man disturbing that dynamic has. Now comes the second, with Lisa Cholodenko’s THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. The story of two lesbian women, in a long-term relationship with two nearly grown kids that they’ve had through an anonymous sperm donor. It’s not a spoiler to say that the story revolves around the kids contacting their biological father, and the havoc that wreaks on the up-to-this point “normal family”.

The movie is a steady, solid burn. It handles it’s characters as mostly fully-developed people, and doesn’t really go too far into any super-serious or messed up territory. Which, like CYRUS, was a welcomed respite. (Don’t get me wrong I like a way over the top story dealing with relationships, like GET HIM TO THE GREEK, too. Sometimes it’s just nice for something a little more subdued.) The two moms, played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, are wonderful – and look amazing, except for when Moore is standing in shorts in the sun. She looks like a reflector. Moore’s kind of the wandering, stay at home mom, that’s tried a few careers but just hasn’t found her niche. (Hey in fifteen more years, those are the roles Zooey Deschanel can be playing.) Bening, the more patriarchal of the two, and the only one that seems to really develop a problem with the new addition to their life.

The two children are played by Mia Wasikowska (ALICE IN WONDERLAND) and Josh Hutcherson (CIRQUE DU FREAK – with John C. Reilly, of CYRUS, okay I’m shutting up about that movie; and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH). My only real issue with the kid’s casting is that Hutcherson does not look like a fifteen year-old, as he’s supposed to be playing. Meanwhile, Wasikowska barely looks like she’s eighteen. But, other than that they’re both great, one looking like their birth-mother, but carrying a lot of the traits of the other. A great study on nature vs. nurture, there.

And finally, the sperm-donor dad is played to perfection by Mark Ruffalo, who in this role uses the seemingly lethargic charm that he’s always had to a new, seemingly much sexier, advantage. His character comes off as the hippy, done good, that cares about people and the environment, and quickly becomes fond of his new “family”. The kind of thing that a near-middle-aged man, is probably supposed to feel.

There’s plenty of humor in the movie to go along with some of the more serious – yet never over-bearing – moments. One of my favorite gags, is probably only something that I’ll laugh at, but in the movie Joni (Wasikowska) has a Toyota Prius, that she drives once. The rest of the time she’s riding in her mom’s Volvo; her “dad’s” motorcycle, or truck. Yet we repeatedly see the Prius – the one vehicle in the movie, seemingly good for the environment, and owned by all these people that care about “locally grown”, “organic”, and other hippy virtues.

The title and the setup of the movie, is similar in some ways to the Todd Field movie, LITTLE CHILDREN. In that while the movie seems like it’s focus is on the kids, it’s really a look and commentary on how the adults behave. Some of the drawbacks to the movie, though, are pieces of the script that just seem a little under-developed. Like there’s the “fuck you” segment of the movie, where it seems like every character’s conversation winds up with at least one person ending spouting off that phrase. Which, might have been a deliberate move, but it just felt like the writers (Cholodenko, wrote and directed the mid-90’s lesbian art-film, HIGH ART and LAUREL CANYON; and Stuart Blumberg, who also wrote KEEPING THE FAITH and THE GIRL NEXT DOOR) didn’t have any place better to take a couple of those moments. The other thing is, that while all of the main characters feel real, Bening’s character, Nick, feels a little under-developed. Yes, she’s a doctor, and that job interrupts life at home; but it also keeps us from really being able to sympathize with her too much.

The supporting characters were also a mixed bag of successful and not-so-much. Luis (played wonderfully by Joaquin Garrido), who is Moore’s character’s assistant with her new gardening – excuse me, landscape design – business. Yaya Dacosta, plays Tanya the hostess at the restaurant that Ruffalo’s character owns. And less relatable or useful were Joni’s friends, Sasha (played by Zosia Mamet), a sex-obsessed little girl that thinks everything is about sex. (Obviously.) And Jai, played by Kunal Sharma, who is supposed to be the awkward boy that likes and is liked by Wasikowska’s character, whose relationship really goes nowhere.

Finally, I just want to say that it’s nice to see movies like this that still feel fresh and up-lifting; without being an out and out comedy. It doesn’t make you want to kill yourself because of relationships, it just tells us that they’re difficult (in one scene, Moore actually tells us this, because sometimes we do just need to be told.) and can be worth fighting for.

It’s a fantastic movie, and while, yes, it has “lesbians” in it; it’s not a movie that’s pushing any kind of gay agenda – the two moms even have a moment of concern when they think their son might be gay. It’s just about families and how complicated they can be. Check it out.

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