Monday, August 9, 2010

The Kids Are All Right (2010, Lisa Cholodenko)

I honestly don’t feel like I have a lot to add to Mike D’Angelo’s spot-on assessment of Cholodenko’s latest, which might as well be titled Scenes From a Might-As-Well-Be-Called-Marriage (But For the Jackasses Who Voted For Proposition 8). The primary virtue of the film is the complexity with which its three grown-up characters are seen- Nic (Annette Bening), a serious doctor with a slight issue with alcohol; Jules (Julianne Moore), Nic’s life partner, a wishy-washy fortysomething perpetually between careers; and Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the anything-goes boho restaurant owner who, a few decades ago, donated the sperm that sired Nic and Jules’ children. Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg, along with the cast, do a fine job establishing the dynamic of the family, in which the adults grapple with everyday problems- the waxing and waning of sexual passion, the encroachment of Nic’s job into the nighttime hours, and so on. All the while, the two of them work hard to bring up well-adjusted kids, albeit of a particularly tolerant variety, and shielding them from their own issues.

Naturally, Paul’s arrival on the scene is an irritant. The kids, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser [!] (Josh Hutcherson), have a right to be curious about the man who provided half their DNA, but likewise do Nic and Jules have the right to be uneasy at the presence of a father figure in the children’s lives after they’ve spent years creating a solid family without one. For his part, Paul is genuinely moved by the introduction of his kids into his life, and he does his best to insinuate himself into theirs, even as it’s clear that his presence isn’t exactly required. The Kids Are All Right handles the dynamic between these five characters with such keen observance and subtlety that it’s something of a letdown when Cholodenko and Blumberg have him embark on an affair with Jules.

That’s not to say that I’m with Jeffrey Wells in his vocal objection to the film’s final marginalization of Ruffalo, since in the end, the family situation must resolve itself, and all else is secondary. Nor was I taken aback by the turn of events that leads the ostensibly girl-loving Jules into Paul’s bed- after all, all three of Cholodenko’s films to date have featured characters whose sexual leanings are rather more fluid than they’d originally thought. It’s just that an affair between Jules and Paul feels too dramatically convenient- too easy an “out”- for this story. Maybe it’s just that I’ve never been a big “plot” guy (which might explain why I never sold a screenplay back when I was trying), but I found the relationship between Nic and Jules’ family and Paul to be interesting enough that the film’s need to turn him into a force working against the family’s happiness felt like a cop out to me. When a movie creates characters as rich as The Kids Are All Right does, I’d rather just see them bounce off each other than be hemmed in by a plot.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

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