The Kids Are All Right
02 November 2010
There is a very good film in here, but you just have to get over the first 15 minutes, when every bone in your body wants to reject what is on the screen. The dialogue is hell-bent on bludgeoning your head in with ridiculous exposition, the characters are perfect archetypes of every person you have ever hated, and the premise feels so heavy-handed and awkward that you begin to think that this is a gimmick about to hit the wall at about 100 mph.
Then there is a switch in there somewhere and it suddenly becomes a witty, funny, heart-warming and a quite decent movie. Lisa Cholodenko’s film stars Julianne Moore (Jules) and Annette Bening (Nic) as a lesbian couple raising their two biological kids: Mia Wasikowska as Joni and Josh Hutcherson as Laser. They are just another suburban family, going through life with its constant banality. Nic is the breadwinner and the control freak, while Jules has given up her career and is a bit of an idealist has-been. Joni is starting college in September and Laser is hanging out with a guy that is clearly not good for him.
Things take a left turn when Laser convinces Joni to find out about their biological father, who donated his sperm to their moms. The father turns out to be Mark Ruffalo’s ultra-dude restaurateur, Paul. Paul goes through life growing organic produce. His life rotates around his business and his only other human connection is the occasional sex he has with his waitress.
When the kids and Paul meet for the first time, it is a rather awkward affair and Cholodenko and fellow screenwriter Stuart Blumberg manage to come up with one of the best scenes I have seen all year. Joni, who wasn’t a big fan of the idea of neeting Paul, feels instant connection with Paul. Meanwhile Laser, who was the instigator, is a little bit let down to find out that his father is not the athletic-junkie like himself.
After the first meeting, the three of them decide to meet again to the consternation of Nic and Jules.
To their luck, there is chemistry and you can clearly see that this is a real family, albeit quite unconventional. The thing is, though, the film opts for a rather conservative definition of a family. When Paul becomes so much enmeshed within the family, it soon becomes obvious that he is a destructive element. And despite his blood connection, he becomes a parasite that needs to be got rid of.
It is here that The Kids Are All Right gets a little over-dramatic, but the story up to that point and the generous serving of humour save it from utter disaster.
On another interesting note (and another proof of the film’s somewhat uncomfortable conservativism): how come the lesbian sex scene is under blankets and bland, when the sex scenes between a man and a woman are so explicitly shown?
Despite the little things about its “message” (for want of a better word), The Kids Are All Right is a smart and funny film that is endlessly surprising. And with Mark Ruffalo, it has the performance of the year so far.