This week Milton and I attended a preview screening of an upcoming Focus Features film, The Kids Are All Right. This film is one that I have been eagerly anticipating. Why is that? It’s a movie with lesbian protagonists. Many films have been made about gay women, but few are well-told compelling stories. What makes this one especially intriguing to me is that it did not seem like yet another cliché-riddled tale about women coming out, about women that are under age 20, or about women that are shallow harebrained idiots in plotlines with the emotional depth of the laundering instructions on a tube sock.
Much to my relief, The Kids Are All Right is a film that delivers . It is a refreshing, witty, charming, poignant, and intelligent dramatic comedy directed by Lisa Cholodenko that she co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg. It stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as Nic and Jules, middle age life partners that reside in the Southern Californa suburbs with their two children, 18-year-old college-bound Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Raser (Josh Hutcherson). Now that Joni is adult age, Raser urges his sister to find their biological father, an idea that she initially opposes for fear of hurting their moms. Sullen Raser guilt trips his whip smart sister into doing the research and making the call. The anonymous sperm donor, Paul, an amiable restaurateur played by Mark Ruffalo, agrees to meet them. To both the kids’ and Paul’s surprise, they have an immediate rapport.
This is a story about an alternative form of family that at its core does not seem alternative at all. Obstetrician Nic is the controlling over achieving breadwinner. The plot pivots on her partner, Jules, the dissatisfied neglected half of the equation who is giving another business — financed by Nic — this time as a landscaper, a go in her quest to latch onto something to give her life purpose as she nears the empty nest syndrome. Even though they have been together for decades and exhibit signs of taking each other for granted, Nic and Jules are both dedicated to raising their kids well. Their mutual strong sense of family values is the glue that cements their bond. They still exhibit sparks of attraction to one another, and when asked, they’re delighted to talk about how they met much to the dread of their children who are not shy to admit that they have heard this tale countless times.
The cracks in the bond between Nic and Jules are quickly apparent, and the sense that the relationship is vulnerable is illustrated when Nic objects to Jules going ahead and buying a truck for her business without telling Nic that she was doing so. Nic is tightly wound whereas Jules is laid back, so she tunes out the issue Nic has about the truck. When Paul, an endearing bachelor with a roving eye, enters the picture, Jules, like her children, finds herself drawn to him while Nic feels threatened and tightens her grip. Paul, who had essentially forgotten that he donated sperm decades earlier, is drawn to the pro-family, pro-commitment life that Nic and Jules have created for themselves. Every one of the central characters is so likeable, when the ending credits rolled, I left wanting to see The Kids Are All Right 2.
As Milton and I walked down the street reeking with the foul scent of baked trash, my normally ultra critical friend agreed that he enjoyed this film very much. He also appreciated the glimpse of gay male porn star Gordon Grant on a DVD that slyly contributes to accelerating the plot. In addition, he especially liked how Cholodenko directed a serious introspective scene where Nic suffers a shocking realization. Cholodenko depicts Nic’s fragile emotional state through the audio track that sounds like she is drowning. Annette Bening’s face is the perfect portrait of pain. The entire cast, comprised of three of the best veterans working in film today, and two up and coming young stars, excellently brings these complex characters to life. The only pithy insult Milton could deliver was a barb in the direction of the droopy blouse that a woman also attending the screening was wearing, “Now I know where all my old drapes went.”
Milton thinks this film has the potential to be quite a crowd pleaser. I hope that he is right. Although the unfairness of the illegality of gay marriage is not mentioned, watching Nic and Jules interact with each other and with their kids, it strikes one as absurd that couples like them, essentially ordinary people running a home, raising a family, and paying taxes, are denied a legal union in this country. This film that is about so much that is all right, indirectly hammers home without hammering the viewer how our laws in forty-five of this country’s states are just all wrong.
Lisa Cholodenko has made a film that strikes a very honest chord about people gay or straight. Reflecting upon the dearth of good films featuring lesbians, The Kids Are All Right is wonderful.
Posted below is the trailer. It opens in select theaters (translation: major cities) July 9th.