Say You Do
No matter what your opinion about marriage—gay or straight—do yourself a favor, savor, and betroth yourself to the blissfully beautiful comedy-drama, The Kids Are All Right
Review by Steven Foster
Ranking a remarkable 95 percent and 86 percent on the movie-review collectives Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively, Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right has had practically every critic in the land drafting veritable thank-you notes to the film. Scores in this stratosphere are reserved for landmarks like ET or Psycho or Kramer vs. Kramer. But the glowing word-love given the film, the near-universal swoon this movie is inducing, is not simply because we’ve been starved for good popcorn fodder this summer which, sweet Jesus, we certainly have been. Except for the Toy Story 3’s nostalgic universalism in successful heartstring tugging, or the Rube Goldberg semi-genius of the derivative yet dreamy adrenaline-laced thrill of Inception, the summer has pretty much sucked. But Kids is something unique to the season of summer stupidity. It is, quite remarkably, a family drama that rapturously succeeds in being both heartfelt and genuine, groundbreaking in its very defiance that it’s just, well, flat-out normal. It’s simply the best portrait of marriage and love, parenting and adolescence, romantic freedom and sexual confinement to grace the silver screen in decades. Forget the fact that the parents are two lesbians. Seriously, it doesn’t matter. When you watch Kids, the homosexuality seems to dissipate into the canvas of the screen. But it lasers something greater, etching something indelible into your soul.
Speaking of laser, it all starts with him. Laser is the younger son of the lesbian couple, played with pitch-perfect aplomb by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. Laser coerces his sister Joni (and fellow sperm sibling) to connect with the donor who made their very existence possible since Joni, now preparing to leave for college, is old enough to track down Daddy. Laser, in such desperate need of a male role model he hangs around an abusive skater-loser who half-pipes from rooftops to dumpsters and nut-punches him for brutish thrill, is curious about his unknown seeder. Joni is initially concerned about the repercussions of such a discovery, but her short-timer status eases her reticence. But when they both meet their “father,” Paul (Mark Ruffalo in his usual, winning sexy, hippy-happy idiot mode), their perceptions are promptly shattered. Laser finds him a bit foolish, while Joni is surprisingly smitten. But babydaddy’s presence is not near the heartquake for the kids as it is for the moms.
Nic (Bening) grows even more threatened and tense than usual which, for this occasional cabernet-sucking control freak, is saying a lot. Jules (Moore), however, is stirred by a mutual organic goofiness. After all, Jules has been aimless in her So-Cal pursuits, yet Paul has had Zen-y success as a farm-to-table restaurateur. Nic sees a threat, Jules a kindred spirit. When everyone at last meets, as the pitch goes in Hollywood, “complications ensue.” And the consequences are both hilarious and poignant.
The performances are spot-on, as beautifully, gently, and astutely observed as Lisa Cholodenko’s direction of a script written by her and Stuart Blumberg. Bening perfectly captures Nic’s rigid edge, her hardened crust—after baking in the marriage oven—now so crisp as to be breakable. And Moore, who can be too edgily studied, seems to find new relaxation playing a woman who dithers and wilts beside her more alpha female companion. Playing their teenage progeny, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson are ever much these seasoned pro’s matches. The kids never have a false moment. Every line, glance, and nuance is a pleasure to behold. The four players craft a portrait of a family in flux that, when the shit hits the fan—and, boy, it does hit, in ways both obvious and unexpected—never once fails to be realized and, more importantly, seem real. If love is a battlefield, then marriage, parenthood, and adolescence is a full-scale war zone. Romantic shrapnel and doomed soldiers are as commonplace as scars obvious and hidden PTSD. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth the fight.
Kids is, thankfully, making significant dollars (for a low-budget, limited release independent any way) and the ruckus from the right has been blissfully silent. Perhaps that’s because, if they’ve seen it, even the most staunch conservatives have seen that this gloriously underplayed portrait of a family features all the family values they’d hope to have in their own lives. Homosexual or heterosexual, this film is a near-perfect postcard to the notion of family.
If this is the place where marriage truly hails from, we’d all wish we were here.
Steven Foster is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.