This is not a repeat; I know I have reviewed The Who film The Kids are Alright. This is not that movie. This is a review of the 2010 film.
Now that that’s out-of-the-way, onto my actual review. As far as I am concerned, there were only two films released this summer. One of them stimulated the intellectual core. This movie was Inception. The other stimulated the emotional core. That is this film. If this were anything like the rest of the summer, it would turn into a corny pseudo drama probably staring Julia Roberts. Instead, it is a truly good film that speaks a universal truth. It is not about gay marriage. It is about the American nuclear family and how, despite the pitfalls associated with it, keeping it together is ultimately the most desirable item for anyone.
The film is about gay couple Nic (Anette Benning, who deserves an Oscar for her performance) and Jules (Julianne Moore). They are raising two children – the boy is named Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Joni (Mia Wasikowska, who you may remember as the titular character from this year’s Alice in Wonderland). Before Joni goes to college, her brother convinces her to look up the sperm donor. This man is Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who runs a restaurant that serves only locally grown foods. He immediately takes a shine to the kids – and so does Jules, who starts to begin an affair with him when she is worried that Nic has grown bored with her. Nic worries that she is losing her family, and seeks to find a way to keep everyone together.
What makes the film special is the fact that everything about it feels…normal. Yes, the two main characters are gay. Just a few short years ago, this would have been the focal point, examining their relationship from that point of view alone. Here, nothing is really made of it. The characters are gay, and that’s the end of it. The two kids refer to their “Moms” in the plural (ie, that would really hurt Moms’ feelings, as you can hear in the above trailer). I know it is a minor point, but it is so refreshing to hear, especially due to the fact that a majority of Hollywood writers (alright, mostly Paul Haggis) seem to think that should be the defining characteristic of the person, making them actually appear just as homophobic as they accuse the rest of the population of being.
So, if the film is not about homosexuality, what is it about? It is about how the nuclear family, no matter the changes it will inevitably go through, is the most vital aspect of American life. Both women seem to be taking on similar gender roles – Nic is the “man” of the family who is the breadwinner and feels slightly upset times when her partner tries to go to work for herself. How many times has this scenario played out amongst straight couples? Even the free-spirited Paul seems to really envy their relationship – he frequently suggests that he marry Jules whenever she feels that she and Nic are having problems. This from a man who originally attracts everyone due to his own seemingly non conventional life style.
It sort of reminds me of what American Beauty was trying to address, sans the moping. The fact that this is meant to be a comedy does mean that some of the delivery is off – how can relationship troubles really be presented in a funny way? But incredibly, it does seem far more realistic.
But I will tell you where the real strength lies; the actors’ performances. They do not take the formulaic approach. For example, when Nic finds out about Paul and Jules’ relationship, it is not an automatic tantrum. You can see her face twist with pain, but she also tries to hide it,smiling at the conversation she is hearing. Later, Jules is confronted about it, and she still tries to lie, but her face shows nothing but guilt. Even young Mia Wasikowska and Mark Ruffalo give memorable performances. It helps the film enormously – the characters all seem familiar, sort of like your own neighbors that are divulging their problems at a weekly neighborhood barbecue. What this means is that, no matter what problems we in the audience may have, we can work through it all. Like I said, this is not the intellectual film of the summer, but it still is the most emotional. That is just as important for some films to give audiences such an emotional release.
In what is becoming a vast wasteland at the theaters, it is wonderful to see a film like The Kids Are All Right be released. It shines like a beacon, beckoning lost and famished travelers to come and bask in its glow (this is corny, I know, but it conjures up a very funny mental image). It started as a good movie, and then the performances pushed it into one of the greats. I have a feeling this will be one i remember when I make my top ten list at the end of the year.