A huge disappointment, and 2010’s most overrated film: Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is light sitcom-level entertainment, tame and dull and even, perhaps, unwittingly offensive in design. But hey, don’t take my word for it: the film has a remarkable 94% on the Tomatometer and seems assured of Oscar noms for Best Picture, Screenplay, Actress (Annette Bening), Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), and maybe more.
I certainly wasn’t expecting this from Cholodenko, director of the near-great lesbian-themed High Art, but here it is: “safe” lesbotainment that panders to a straight male crowd, where the lesbian sex is played – under the sheets – purely for laughs and the women can instantly be conquered – explicitly and erotically – by the mighty cock.
The point of it all: a non-traditional family unit – here, a lesbian couple (played by Bening and Julianne Moore) and their two children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) – can face the same problems faced by more traditional families: puberty, college, infidelity, alcoholism, etc. Well, sure, point taken. But none of these problems are explored to any degree of satisfaction, they’re only presented to serve the theme, and the results are downright bland.
A subplot, however, is at least initially satisfying: the kids decide to search for their biological father (the same sperm donor fathered each by a different mother, three years apart), and find organic farmer and restaurateur Paul (Ruffalo).
Laser (Hutcherson) is disappointed – his biological father seems more liberal and less “manly” than mom Nic (Bening) – but Joni (Wasikowska) takes a shine to him. And Paul, following a string of unsubstantial relationships, soon becomes enamored with his new family; not just the two kids, but also their mothers.
But by the third act, Paul and his moderately engrossing storyline are unceremoniously thrown aside. And as the film’s most interesting element (and its best performance, in the always-solid Ruffalo) fades away, the film hammers home it’s ultra-important, but ever-so-mundane gay marriage message (while it might have some value for Red State America, the majority of the film’s indie-friendly audience should be past this). Yes Dorothy, lesbians are just like you and me.
And by you and me, I mean, of course, rigidly conformist male/female husband and wife caricatures. Bening’s Nic is the workaholic, acerbic, uncaring, alcoholic alpha male, the kind of stereotypical husband that went out of style in the 60s.
Nic is downright repellent, and shamefully never taken to task by the script, and a miscast Bening is seldom more than one-note. Of course, a multitude of awards await her. Moore fares better as similarly stereotypical Jules, a delicate, quiet, easily-seduced female who gave up her career in order to raise the children.
The kids are alright, too: Wasikowska (coming off a radiant performance in Burton’s Alice in Wonderland) and Hutcherson (Journey to the Center of the Earth) are frequently more interesting to watch than their adult counterparts.
At best, The Kids Are All Right passes as light entertainment. At worst, it’s a gross oversimplification of a topic that deserves better, and a real disservice to a traditionally mistreated segment of its audience by a filmmaker who should know better.