The Kids Are Alright

Positioning itself simply as any other family dramedy, Lisa Cholodenko’s third significant directorial outing goes to great lengths to create a self-superior attitude in order to mask its deeply neurotic and insecure base.

Married lesbian couple Jules (Julianne Moore), a failed architect turned landscape gardener and Nic (Annette Bening), an obstetrician have each conceived a child through the same anonymous sperm donor. With their opposing views on parenting and life, their relationship has begun to run more on routine than real communication. Their youngest child Laser (Josh Hutcherson), eager to find his birth father he enlists his 18 year old sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) in doing so. Contacting the sperm bank, they’re able to meet Paul (Mark Ruffalo), a man who may not meet the typical requirements of a father but who interests them all the same.
Forming a close bond with Jules and the children, Nic becomes threatened, a fact that only escalates matters further.

Needless liberalism flows almost as freely as the self-styled intellectual prose. A child called laser, organic growing sperm-donor and weighted references to wine, food and even philosophy; the eye rolling it induced made me wonder if my pupils would ever descend again. Perhaps its done to persuade us that something new is actually being offered when in fact the plot never breaks out of laboured convention and cliche.

The great irony is that despite a lesbian writer/director helming the project, the insults towards lesbians and gay people in general. That a lesbian couple would watch gay porn, that one of them would sleep with a man out of loneliness, that they would assume one of their children is gay reeks of narrow-mindedness. If the film didn’t take itself so seriously, blissfully ignorant to how pompous it all sounds, it could almost double as good satire. One outburst by Bening leans towards self-aware but even that is done with such hurt, it fails to grasp how silly it all is.

As for the overall quality of acting, Moore illustrates how to abandon all the skills one has picked up through a diverse and successful career, resorting to such painfully generic lengths. Similarly Bening, of whom I’ve always had a great admiration, never succeeds in being more than average, except from one silent dinner table scene when she disengages her auto-pilot. Ruffalo exudes a skittishness not uncommon of a user in need of his next hit. Perhaps one of the only genuinely natural performances is offered by Yaya DeCosta, demonstrating an ability I wouldn’t have associated with a former aspiring model.

Indulgent, poorly written and low point for several highly capable actors’ careers, there’s really nothing I can say to offer this piece any real praise.

    • Darren
    • January 26th, 2011

    I actually quite enjoyed it, though you make a lot of good points. Imagine how controversial it would have been, for example, if a hetrosexual couple was broken up by a gay affair – however here a gay couple is broken up by a hetrosexual affair.

      • thejackanory
      • January 26th, 2011

      A straight couple being broken up a gay affair would reasonably be because of awakening feelings but a gay woman having sex with a straight man simply to act out? Bit unnecessary and insulting. But then again, they watch gay male porn so the movie does seem hugely preoccupied with the penis.

        • Darren
        • January 28th, 2011

        Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t passing judgement, I was just observing that – if that plot point had been reversed – it would have been much more “controversial” to outside media. It would have garnered, I suspect, a lot more sensationalist discussion in the mainstream media. Whereas a straight affair damaging a gay relationship didn’t seem to cause too much of a stir at all – it’s just treated (in most reviews) as a plot point.

        • thejackanory
        • January 28th, 2011

        Sorry, should have been clearer, I do agree with you on that. Just mean it should be the opposite because typically in a movie with a straight relationship and a gay affair, that would be examined because you can’t really say it has no significance; a straight man doesn’t sleep with another man because he’s feeling ignored, it means something. Here you have a lesbian who sleeps with a man and it’s given one line to address the question of impact on sexuality, think that’s insensitive of any writer/director, especially with a lesbian one. But like I already said, I think she’s a bit obsessed with the phallus in general.

      • No worries – I probably could have been cleare myself.

  1. Surprisingly low rating for this. Interesting. Not really my cup of tea.

      • thejackanory
      • May 31st, 2011

      It’s a poorly written piece and that one moment with Benning was the only good thing about it. And for a movie written by a lesbian about lesbians, it was as if she’d never met one

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