Much praise has been heaped upon Lisa Cholodenko’s new film The Kids Are All Right, which I saw at the Curzon last night. Possibly too much praise. It’s a really refreshing, smart, naturalistic family drama, whose comedy is rarely on the nose, and whose central performances are deft and convincing and warm-blooded. Oscars are tipped, especially for Annette Bening who plays the “dad” of a two-mom lesbian couple – the more sensible, short-haired breadwinner, at any rate, which may be a sexist way of viewing the “dad” but that’s how I read it – and for Mark Ruffalo, who gives the turn of his career as the vain, self-satisfied but still appealing sperm donor whose seed created a child for both moms. When Mia Wasikowska’s off-to-college but seemingly virginal eldest turns 18, she is entitled to know the identity of her father and when she and 15-year-old brother Josh Hutcherson seek Dad out, without their moms knowing, the fuse is lit for a) some entertaining mild comedy of manners, and b) trouble.
Despite the knotty problems ahead, it’s a breeze to watch. Bening and Julianne Moore do more than just play a married couple, they just are one. Their gender and sexuality are not as “issue” here. They bicker and twinkle and bump along together like any married couple. This ought not to be profound, but this is a mainstream Hollywood movie, for all its indie signifiers and credentials. That it’s not a film about lesbians – other than both parents have been artificially inseminated, which serves the story – is its abiding strength.
That it was co-written and directed by a woman is far more significant, in that the number of female directors working in America has traditionally been miniscule. Certainly, you can name a few, but you’ll run out pretty quickly. I haven’t seen Lisa Cholodenko’s other films, but I know she hasn’t made one for a number of years. It’s the star power of her cast that helped this one to fruition, but hey, whatever means are necessary. Moore and Bening choose pretty carefully, and their names bestow a certain quality to the work before it’s started. (Yes, I know Moore does the odd cash job, like Jurassic Park and Hannibal, but she even brings a touch of class to those.) It seems ridiculous that there aren’t more female directors working in American film. Many more seem to make a living in TV. So to have had two smart films this year from women – this one and Nicole Holofcener’s Please Give – is worthy of comment. It shouldn’t be. But don’t shoot the messenger.
Anyway, The Kids Are All Right is more than alright. But it’s not quite as good as you may have been led to believe by critics starved of this sort of film. There is much to recommend it, but for me, the story goes down a cul-de-sac and has nowhere to go. That said, the final scene is brilliantly subtle and says a lot without saying too much.
One thing needs saying: the trailer for this film gives way too much away. Key plot points are shown, and key gags, too. This spoils the experience of watching the film. If you haven’t seen the trailer, avoid it. See the film instead.