The Kids Are All Right
As the Sundance, TriBeca, SXSW and Cannes Film Festivals wrap up in the first half of every year, a handful of films generate enough positive reviews that we in the entertainment news industry instinctively begin to discuss their respective Oscar prospects. It seems a bit silly - talking about award-worthy movies whilst the studios that produce and/or purchase them are simultaneously throwing their most expensive and often most odious fare at the multiplex. It's also a futile practice, as even more high-quality motion pictures inevitably hit theaters in the months that follow, rendering many early hopefuls stale by comparison.
Despite loads of buzz and thumbs up from national critics, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right may suffer the aforementioned fate and end up being too little, too soon. The film, which centers on the dilemma that Nic and Jules, a lesbian couple living in California, face when the sperm donor who fathered their children enters their lives at their kids' request, is enjoyable entertainment for adults and will be easy to digest for most audiences. My problem with the movie is that it was too easy to digest. With material that touches on a hot topic like gay marriage, I feel like I should've been questioned or challenged by the narrative. During press interviews, Cholodenko stated that her goal was to craft a personal tale about the strengths, weaknesses and ups and down of being a part of a family and avoid a sociopolitical connotation (she succeeds in this task), but I believe that she missed a golden opportunity to create an important dialogue about identity, marriage, fidelity and the state of homosexuality in America. Without debate, I just couldn't get emotionally involved in the story.
That's not to say that I couldn't get involved in the characters. As Nic and Jules, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore bring caring warmth to their characters that only real-life Moms can. Though they both exhibit unappealing traits (Nic often knocks back one too many and is somewhat forceful with her kids, while Jules has a brush with heterosexuality that nearly ends their relationship) and are, in their own ways, selfish human beings, they mean well and represent an idyllic if alternative pair of parents. The teenagers, or rather the actors who play them, are actually more remarkable than the predicament that they find themselves in. Mia Wasikowska, well known to the masses as the star of Tim Burton's billion dollar Alice In Wonderland, and Journey to The Center of The Earth's Josh Hutcherson portray the titular Kids, Joni and Laser, with plenty of personality, but they also know how to convey a sense of vulnerability (that undoubtedly is the result of a fatherless upbringing) that defines them. They each have subplots that expand on their social shortcomings and provide more screen time, but ultimately take the story nowhere.
It's Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the carefree restaurateur, unknowing father of two and catalyst of the film's drama, who gets my sympathy. He goes from laid-back bachelor to likable new father to victim of circumstance in under two hours all because of his awkward attraction to Jules. The demonization of man didn't sit right with me, especially because Paul's feelings for Jules are not only reciprocated but multiplied by her own eagerness to engage in a risky affair with him. Paul pays the ultimate sacrifice by losing out on his relationship with the children he never knew while Jules gets little more than the silent treatment. He's ostracized by women who have their own issues to work out and by teenagers who are too young to fully understand the complexity and reality of the situation. That's what I call the short end of the stick.
The Kids Are All Right wraps up relatively neatly, rewarding moviegoers with a warm dramedy that doesn't bite as hard as it should. There are plenty of elements in the story that could've been focused on in a more contemplative film - the consequences of one's actions, the composition of the nuclear family in the new millennium, etc. - but instead it's a personal tale of love falling apart and the act of forgiveness aiding its characters in putting it back together. I enjoyed the picture because of its well-written dialogue, unique brand of humor and down-to-earth performances, but feel that, like the Kids, it's just All Right. With two critically adored actresses who have seven combined Academy Award nominations between them, the film will certainly attract an audience, but even with an Oscar ceremony that encompasses ten Best Picture nominees, I think it's too early to tell if it will eventually strike gold.
Hollywood.com rated this film 2 stars.