The Kids Are All Right (DVD)
Academy Award® nominees Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star in this funny, smart and vibrant portrait of a modern American family. Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) are your average suburban couple raising their two teens, Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), in Southern California. But when the kids secretly track
down their “donor dad,” Paul (Mark Ruffalo), an unexpected new chapter begins for everyone as family ties are defined, re-defined and then re-re-defined. Fall in love with the big-hearted comedy that critics are calling “one of the best films of the year!”
(Michael Phillips, At the Movies)
Warning: this review is full of spoilers
So, I’ve wanted to see this since it came out, but have been way too busy. And I’m lucky that it’s out in DVD already or it’d probably have to wait a long while more.
I loved this film, it’s really good. It’s so human and real and gets to the heart of what happens to a lot of people in long term relationships as well as our basic need to be loved and appreciated.
There are reviews of The Kids Are All Right all everywhere, so you can get a better idea of what it’s about. But I’ll speak to the readers of this blog and as a straight woman who probably saw this in a different light than the lesbian community whom I know had a lot of issues with this film.
I guess pretty much everyone knows the basic premise of the film: Nic and Jules are a long term lesbian couple who used a sperm donor to have two children. The children are grown up now and want to know who their father is. They get into contact with Paul and basically that’s when the shit hits the fan.
Nic, played by Annette Bening, brilliantly I might add; she made this film for me, is older than Jules and very straight and old fashioned in her way of thinking. She’s a dr. and is driven to succeed. She has a black and white point of view and is all about doing the right thing and being perfect. Unfortunately she insists this way of thinking on Jules and the kids, who are tired of her criticisms and trying to live up to some perfect expectation. She also drinks just a little too much, suggesting that deep down she’s not as happy a camper as she might think.
Jules is the more laid back one, kind of hippie/flaky on some level and is always trying to please Nic even if she does what she wants anyway. She’s hurting, really trying to keep the flame alive in what she feels is a dying relationship, but feels it’s just never enough. She’s also the more astute one on that since Nic seems to be clueless that they even have a problem, or she won’t admit it. It’s clear though that she loves Nic as she’s like a puppy dog, always up for every time Nic wants to do something for them, but is always disappointed when Nic can’t follow through.
Their daughter, Joni, is that perfect good girl. Straight A student and very mature for her age. She’s just turned 18 and is starting to put her foot down and stand up to her moms.
Their son, Laser, is kind of lost. He hangs out with this total loser guy friend who gets them in trouble. And of course, Nic hates Laser’s friend and thinks that Laser is slacking off too much and can do much better. Laser is the one who really wants to connect with their donor father and pushes it.
In comes Paul, the sperm donor. Paul is a lot like Jules. He’s been flaky in his youth, unfocused and not really that ambitious until he discovered that he likes cooking and growing things. He’s got a thriving restaurant and organic garden. He’s just going through life though, not thinking about a long term relationship with a woman or family, until the kids contact him and he becomes part of their lives.
OK first I’ll address the issue that pissed off so many lesbians and would have pissed me off too, except for how I perceived it, it was nothing about the lesbian who sees the light finally after being fucked by the right guy. No, that’s not even close to what happened.
This is basically a story about Nic and Jules and that they’ve reached a point in their relationship where they are stuck in a rut and don’t know how to get out of. Particularly Jules. Paul is the catalyst that brings a lot of underlying, festering resentful feelings to the forefront.
Yes, Jules sleeps with Paul. But what I didn’t pick up was any real connection between them other than she sees her kids in him and there’s that bond that he’s the kids’ father. There was no build up to them having sex, no dancing around each other, or flirting really, it just sort of happens. And then it happens again. There was just no feeling coming from the characters that it means anything, except for the fact that Paul says he’s falling in love with Jules. And I certainly didn’t feel from Jules that Paul showed her the light of sexual identity clarity, that she must really be straight. In fact, after it all comes out, Paul wants to go for it with Jules, be a family, and Jules is slightly incredulous… like, “I’m gay, what are you talking about?”
For her part, Jules doesn’t get why she’s doing it. However, it’s pretty clear that one way to unconsciously get Nic to really hear her is to sleep with someone who would really push Nic’s buttons. A man and the sperm donor of their kids. Not that she was conscious of doing that. That’s just my own psychobabble about why that would happen based on the fact that Jules doesn’t really come across as attracted to Paul even though they do have hot sex. That’s kind of hard to explain, but that’s how I saw it.
I never got that Jules was confused about her identity as a lesbian or that she was doing this for any other reason than he showed up at a time when she needed some validation and he wasn’t really a threat. Maybe like a woman would have been.
Nic never really did warm up to Paul. But the night she does, is when she finds out that Jules and Paul are sleeping together. I tell you, that scene when Nic realizes what has happened was intense and heartbreaking. Annette Bening was amazing, the pain written across her face so clearly. The camera focuses on her, her eyes and it’s clear her world is shattered.
In the end, it’s a happy ending… well, for Jules, Nic and their kids. For Paul? That’s one part that pissed me off. The ending rather vilifies Paul unjustly. Paul himself grows through this experience and the fact that he’s completely discounted in the end as just an interloper who tried to break up a marriage was a bit unjust I thought. Infidelity is a big issue in this film and wasn’t portrayed lightly.
I just loved this film basically because all of these characters are so normal and human. The lesbian moms aspect that was played up by everyone was not a big deal. They are portrayed as a normal married couple, kind of dull, just living life, not really wanting to acknowledge that they’ve moved apart emotionally. You could exchange them for any het couple and have the same story. This I liked since it didn’t use the gay aspect to turn this into something unique or uber special either positively or negatively, it’s not. Gay/lesbian couples deal with the same crap hets do, except they have to deal with the prejudice over and above that. Although the social/political part of that was not brought up. There wasn’t one lesbian cliché in this story, except for that the women like to watch gay porn.
The bigger clichés in this story are the rebellious kids vs, out of touch-uncool parents and the usual conservative/responsible vs flaky/hippie liberal attitudes that cause a lot of conflict between the characters. And also the cliché of the “other” being the bad, evil person in infidelity.
I totally recommend this film. It’s not what I feared it might be after reading all the hype and criticism. I thought it was very pro lesbian, showing a real relationship and family as it probably is. It’s very funny in bits, I laughed out loud at times, and it’s heartbreaking in moments, I cried as well. If you get a chance to see it, do so.
Heat level 3: There’s a fair amount of nudity and m/f sexual scenes, some brief clips of gay porn, and a fair amount of kissing between Nic and Jules, although they never get naked together.