The Kids Are All Right
Film review by: Witney Seibold
The most refreshing thing about Lisa Cholodenko‘s “The Kids Are All Right” is that it’s a queer drama that doesn’t bank on the characters’ sexuality as a sticking point of interest. Too many queer films assume that the characters are interesting merely because they are gay, and don’t bother to write anything else memorable about them. The women at the center of “The Kids Are All Right” are both dynamic and interesting women, who have been ground to marital stagnancy by a decade of domestic routine. That Jules and Nic are played by such wonderful (and often underrated) actresses like Julianne Moore and Annette Bening only adds to their humanity. Despite the plot machinations, I loved seeing the vaguely malcontented, borderline alcoholic interactions between these two women. I really believed that this was a typical suburban couple, free of stereotypes from both the queer front and the suburban angst front.
Jules and Nic have two teenage children as well, and both their daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and their son Laser (John Hutcherson) are having trouble relating to their increasingly haggard mothers. There is something perhaps a mite too precious in this setup (and in the way Joni and Laser refer to their mothers as “moms”), but I felt that the “precious” moments were actually grown from the characters and not from Chodolenko’s calculating pen. Laser is at-risk, and perhaps spend too much time with his bad-influence friend. Joni is in love with a classmate, but is too shy to make a move. Her best girlfriend is a boycrazy horndog.
Laser wants to know about his biological father, and goes under moms’ noses to seek him out. He finds Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a roguishly charming hippie bachelor who works in a veggie commune, and who casually sleeps with just about every one of his female co-workers. This, the kids feel, may be a much-needed male presence previously missing from their lives. Paul is reluctantly invited over by Nic and Jules, and the three establish a shaky rapport. Nic is wary of him, feeling his is kind of an interloper. Jules is a little more accepting.
There are other plot machinations that I won’t reveal here, but there are some very dramatic developments which threaten to break up the family unit. O.k. I’m sure you know this, but Jules, finally ready for some passion in a long-stymied sexual situation, and Paul, so used to bringing women out of their sexual shell, begin having an affair…
“The Kids Are All Right” is a family drama which, when looked at from the correct angle, resembles something very old-fashioned. In terms of its structure (interloper invades placid family, threatens to disassemble it with no ill intentions) sounds like the story of a cynical 19th century French novel.
This film has come under a lot of fire from many critics for the way it treats Paul. He’s actually a very well-rounded character who seems very heroic, but very grounded. He’s not necessarily the best dad to Laser and Joni, but he’s cool enough that he can talk to them, which is more than could be said for their moms. I think the character was written as less than what Ruffalo provided, which is a testament to his acting. The film even makes sure to depict Nic as a cold, buttoned-down fascist when compared to Paul’s free spirit. Paul was invited in, and, in turn, the movie treats him like an invader. While it seems emotionally honest to me, I can see how such an action would come across as insufferably smug.
The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, although it won none. At the end of the day, “The Kids Are All Right” is a film to refer to. It’s an important step in queer cinema (despite its controversial ending, and its perhaps shrewish characters). I think, however, it will be referred to more than it will be openly enjoyed.