December 30, 2010

#113: The Kids Are All Right (6/10)

The Kids Are All Right tells a story based on an interesting situation. A lesbian couple each obtain donations from a sperm bank in order to have children as they start their family together. The kids are now 18 and 15 and they want to meet their biological father for the first time.  They find him and hijinks ensue.  I liked the concept, and this this film is acted decently. It was funnier than I expected, and I had a good time watching it.  However, there was something that kept me from really getting into it.  I was always aware it was a movie, whatever that means.  Arbitrary rating is a 6 out of 10.

It is amazing I liked this movie as much as I did. It contains Julianne More and a bunch of hippies, so it had two strikes against right from the start. For the most part it was able to overcome those hurdles and deliver a fairly thoughtful drama. It deals with some pretty heavy stuff.  In a subtle way it asks the question of whether two mothers is a enough when raising a kid.  In a more overt way it challenges how couples deal with controversy, and the malaise of mid-life. ... And it isn't too corny or heavy-handed.

The first half of this film is quite a bit different from the second half, and that kinda bothered me.  In the beginning the kids take center stage.  The movie is light-hearted and quite funny.  We are introduced to all the members of the family, but the kids seem to be the stars of the show. Their father comes into the picture and starts to be a part of their lives. As the movie progresses the children fade into the background as the film begins to focus on the mothers.  By the end it is all about the moms, and the daddy doesn't get any resolution at all.  The film was fine, it just felt inconsistent.

There was a lot I liked about it, but there were several small things that kept it from adding up to a great film.  They were able to convey a lot of the characters' feeling well. I enjoyed the dinner scene when the one mother realizes what is going on. I liked the emotional scene that Juliann Moore's character has.  I thought Mia Wasikowska did a good job in the final sequence conveying that bittersweet feeling of getting dropped off at college.  (That was the fastest college drop-off ever.) There were lots of positives, but Mark Ruffalo's final scene at the front door was unsatisfying.  I didn't need it all to be wrapped up with a bow, but I wanted a little something more.

I tend to judge a movie based on how well it pulls me into the reality it is presenting.  A film can present a totally unrealistic situation, but as long as it sells it I can usually buy in.  Even though The Kids Are All Right is a well-made, well acted film, I never bought in to what was happening on screen.  I don't think it was because the family had two moms. It probably had more to do with the number of hippies. There is a scene where the moms explain that they don't watch lesbian porn because it feels fake. They complain it is usually two straight women that are just pretending so it isn't genuine.  That scene was probably put in there to be a bit of a meta moment. This film hinges on two straight women pretending to be lesbians.  And you know what, it didn't feel genuine. It felt like they were playing at being lesbian. Not that I know anything about how one should act if they were really a lesbian. The comment about the porn brought it to my attention, and then it stayed in the back of my head the rest of the movie.

The Kids Are All Right is a movie about two women, made by a woman. It was interesting how she handled the story of the son. This isn't specific to a lesbian couple. It could have been a single mother just the same.  It is clear that the character of Laser needs a male influence in his life.  Unfortunately the only male influence he has at the beginning is some bone-head friend from school.  His mom knows the friend is a bad influence, but he refuses to listen to her.  It is Laser's idea to contact the father. He is the one that makes his sister look him up. Laser realizes he is missing out on something, and is looking for a male in his life. When Mark Ruffalo enters the picture Laser is finally able to stand up to the friend.  Who knows what kind of trouble that idiot kid would have got Laser in to. At the end we don't know if the father is going to be in the picture anymore or not.  If he is not, what is going to happen to Laser? We aren't sure, but it is clear that he needs some sort of man in his life. The moms did a fine job of raising their kids, but Laser is clearly missing out on something that he needs. If you saw the film and interpreted it differently I would be interested to hear from you.

The Kids Are All Right is a solid film.  It's an indie movie, but should be fairly enjoyable for a main-stream audience.  It has some humor, but is most definitely a drama.  Ironically, it features a lesbian relationship and lots of hippies while presenting a story about traditional values and the importance of family. I wasn't moved by it in the least, but I am glad I watched it. Some critics argue that it is getting snubbed by Oscar voters because it is made by a woman and features a gay couple.  I would argue that it just isn't quite good enough to win academy awards, but I guess that hasn't stopped films in the past.

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