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The Kids Are All Right

I feel like I’ve been going down a dark road lately here at ye olde Faceplant.  Dead Space 2 and Black Swan are not the lightest entertainment propositions one can have.  So before I become like the monkey at the beginning of 28 Days Later, let’s lighten it up a bit.  I vowed to myself this year to see more Oscar nominees.  I’ve seen five!  Two years ago I would have taken in all the possibilities, but of course now the academy saw fit to expand the best picture category to ten films.  TEN.  Too many, damn it.  Anywho, all this led me to watch the Kids are All Right, which is nominated for Best Picture and has Annette Benning nominated for Best Actress (sorry Annette, that race is over, please refer to “Swan, Black”).  It has strong performances from all the principal actors involved and is probably most aptly described as a film about a family trying to keep their shit together in some trying circumstances.  (But not REALLY trying circumstances, like necromorphs, or turning into water fowl.  Happy thoughts today people!)  I feel like the best picture nomination might be a byproduct of the aforementioned expansion to ten (TEN!) but this is a film worth watching.

The film focuses on Nic and Jules, a married couple with two kids, the about to go to college Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and her younger brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson).  First, yes, you read that correctly, the boy is named Laser.  This is never explained, apparently they just thought it was a cool name.  The only Laser I ever knew was usually standing on the other side of a paper wall, ready to smash you in the face with a giant foam pad.  Or perhaps he was manning the tennis ball cannon and trying to nail you in the face as you traversed an obstacle course.  But I digress.  The other somewhat significant thing is that Nic (Annette Benning) and Jules (Julianne Moore)  are a lesbian couple who each gave birth one of their kids, with some help from an anonymous sperm donor.  Important to note, the same donor was used for both kids.  The drama begins when Joni and Laser decide, with Joni turning 18, to take advantage of a law that states when a child is 18 they are allowed to contact their father the sperm donor.  They reach out to Paul (Mark Ruffalo) and sort of blow his mind as he was unaware he had any offspring inhabiting this planet.

This is not the Laser in this film.

One thing that impressed me about this film was how the lesbian relationship was presented, namely as nothing special.  This is NOT a movie about a lesbian relationship or gay rights.  In fact this whole film could have just as easily been made with a man playing one of the leads if they just came up with some medical reason he couldn’t get his wife pregnant.  I got the sense that writer and director Lisa Cholodenko just chose to go that route because it’s something that could and probably is happening in society right now.  Hell, maybe they just couldn’t find the right actor and figured hey, we know Annette and Julianne will do it, let’s just make them the couple and call it a day!  The movie doesn’t make a big deal out of it and I shouldn’t either, so moving on!

Anette Bening’s oscar nomination is deserved, although I question why Julianne Moore wasn’t given one as well.  They’re both given equal screen time and I find it hard to separate one performance form the other because both were very good and they also had a large number of scenes together.  In fact, when I really think about it, I would argue Moore had a bit more dramatic dialogue to deliver, and she performs excellently.  Neither actress has won an Oscar, although both have been nominated four times.  Maybe the academy just flipped a coin that came up Bening, considering they knew Natalie Portman was going to win anyway.  Suffice it to say, their performances were intertwined and excellent, they were totally believable and not heavy-handed at all in portraying a married couple.

Mark Ruffalo plays Paul, the surprised father of two.  Paul owns an organic foods restaurant, which he grows himself, and has a very sort of hippy / California surfer dude vibe going on.  Paul is a nice enough guy who legitimately wants to get to know his kids, but also has absolutely no idea how to act around them.  Nic and Jules see him as a potential danger, as they’re carefully constructed world of homework (Joni going to a good college!) and high levels of parental concern (Laser hanging out with a friend of questionable morals) give way to a unshaven dude who walks around with his chest hair popping out and rides a MOTORCYCLE!  Nic is a doctor and has forbidden the kids from even being near them due to the injuries she’s seen.  Upset at the kids for having lunch with Paul without telling the “Momses” first, Nic and Jules resolve to get to know Paul if he’s going to become an influence on their children and invite him to dinner.  The somewhat rigid Nic senses trouble, while the more free-spirited Jules actually takes a liking to Paul.  As he grows close to the kids and Jules (she’s starting a landscaping business and Paul hires her to redo his backyard) Nic finds herself fighting a losing battle about Paul’s influence in the family.

YOU take the best actress nom! No YOU take it! Oh what do we care, that little bitch Portman is going to win anyway.

My usual I won’t spoil anything more than that caveat applies here, but the script is very well written.  This movie is rarely LOL funny, but can be pretty clever.  (When Laser asks Paul why he decided to donate sperm, Paul pauses for a few beats then says “…it seemed like more fun than giving blood?”)  Moments like that abound, ranging from capturing the awkwardness of talking to ones parents about sex, or Joni’s efforts to try to push a male friend into being something more, while her slutty BFF chides in from the sidelines (this is not a dig, Joni’s friend is a total ho bag, she admits this!).

The only criticism I really have with the film is a sort of meandering script.  There’s a certain lack of focus of what exactly the film is trying to say.  In fact, the ending, which I will NOT spoil, could arguably answer nothing about any of the characters.  It wasn’t so much that events are left unresolved by the conclusion, it’s that it feels like there should have been maybe 10 more minutes of movie to give us an idea of how the whole thing turns out.  It would have been a better film if some earlier stuff was chopped and 10 minutes were added on to the end.

But I don’t mean to chide Cholodenko for her script, it was overall well done.  In fact, that encapsulates my whole thoughts about the movie.  The acting is well done, the writing is well done, even the music and setting serve their purpose admirably.  To be honest, had I seen this film on a whim with no expectations, I probably would have been singing its praises even more.  As it stands, I came to watch it because it was nominated for best picture.  It’s not best picture material.  Under the old school system of five films, it wouldn’t be here.  But that isn’t a real knock, there is nothing wrong with being the 8th or 9th best film of the year.  The film is refreshingly light in a best picture class that is mostly dark and weighty.  I greatly enjoyed the change of pace.

Welcome to the family Paul, appreciate the help on the whole sperm thing all those years ago.


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