February Issue 2011
Movie Review: The Kids Are All Right
Lisa Cholodenko’s new film The Kids Are All Right is a warm, witty story about the fragile nature of modern family life. The fact that the couple at the centre of the movie are lesbians, who used a sperm donor to give birth to their two children, makes the familiar theme of this movie no less universal.
Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) live comfortably in a lush California suburb where Nic serves as the bread-winning parent working at a hospital, while Jules takes on the role of a housewife, although she attempts to start a landscape design business. They suffer the same emotional stress that all parents do as they prepare for their eldest child Joni (Mia Wasikowska) to leave for college at the end of the summer. Their marriage undergoes the same tension that has been depicted between heterosexual couples on screen so many times before, as the flighty Jules becomes increasingly restless with Nic’s overbearing routine. In other words, this family is the picture of American normality.
And yet when the two children, Joni and Laser (John Hutcherson), track down their sperm-donor father Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the easy-going normality of this family is put to the test. Paul, a motorcycle-riding owner of an organic restaurant, has a laid back, earthy charm that seems to scream out manliness. More than anyone else in the family, Nic is especially threatened by the emergence of Paul into her family’s life. Bening gives a brilliant performance as the uptight Nic, which is being touted as Oscar-worthy. Throughout the film, Nic seems to constantly hold back the desire to scream out, “I don’t need a man to take care of my family.” All families, even happy, fully functioning ones, have their issues.
Although the film unwinds at a leisurely pace under the warm rays of the Californian sun, it still offers a subtle, but biting social commentary. It gently satirises the casual self-righteousness of characters that profess to be open-minded and liberal. The dismissive and slightly racist manner in which Jules addresses a Mexican worker in her garden is an understated, but evocative detail. There appears to be smugness behind all the talk of environmentalism and organic food, as if these causes were adopted merely to impress. We’re inclined to align ourselves with Nic when she declares: “If I hear one more person say how much they love heirloom tomatoes, I’m going to punch them right in the face.”
The Kids Are All Right manages to provide an acute insight into the lives of the American upper-middle class, setting it apart from the typical family drama.