THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is a film for whom success, marginal as it may be, rests entirely on the shoulders of its cast. The film tells the story in a rather tight nucleus focusing on the parents (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore), the kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) and finally their heretofore unknown sperm donor/father (Mark Ruffalo). Ultimately it is the compelling, truthful, funny and touching performances in this film that make it worth watching even in spite of some very serious problems.
While this is a more sure-handed feature effort from Lisa Cholodenko than the disjointed and awful Laurel Canyon it is not without its serious deficiency. That deficiency to be discussed in full warrants a spoiler alert.
Having said that the major conflict of the film occurs when Jules (Julianne Moore) starts having an affair with Paul (Mark Ruffalo). At one point you think it may just be a one time thing but the film almost revels in showing the multiple relapses that Jules has and her enjoyment of this seemingly inexplicable affair. Your hopes that it will never surface are also quickly dashed.
Now while I will not dwell in the land of film theory in this review and speculate on the potential impact of yet another homosexual character engaging in a heterosexual tryst in a film it is also a plot contrivance that fails in terms of cinematic mechanics in several ways.
First, to simply state it it’s lazy. My major grievance with Valentine’s Day is that even with the sheer number of couples in that film nearly all of them were dealing with infidelity. Oddly enough that film deals with its one homosexual couple in a unique and taboo-breaking way and they have no issues.
While barring some other grievous offense this is the biggest cause of conflict possible it’s not one that had to be introduced just to create drama. While it does allow there to be a very emotional tearing apart and subtle reunion of the family as Joni (Mia Wasikowska) goes off to college one wonders if there would ever be a film that would ever do the opposite and get away with it. Would a man be able to have an affair with another man and be able to repair his marriage, family and have an audience believe it? Doubtful. However, here a gay couple faces the ultimate betrayal and while you want them to resolve things it doesn’t make it any less implausible that they’d manage to stay together.
Yet plausibility is overrated and almost anything can be accepted in a film if it is sufficiently set up but aside from the one clichÃ© I-Hate-You-I-Want-You glance they exchange right before they kiss you don’t see it coming and further more when pressed Jules doesn’t have a satisfactory answer for Nic (Annette Bening) that would explain not only an extra-marital affair but one with the opposite sex. If that is going to happen in homosexual relationship more needs to be cited than a lack of attention. It’s not like flipping a light switch and while sexuality is between the ears and the affair doesn’t make Jules suddenly straight, this kind of thing does take convincing to make sense and it never quite does.
Unfortunately, this affair is a major event and does take up a significant portion of this film and thus this review. Ultimately, the audience is the determinant of meaning so it is the director’s job to convey that meaning clearly so we can see intent. I am quite sure that perhaps there was some symbolic or representational intent with the affair and that Cholodenko didn’t want it interpreted in a possibly negative way, however, whatever message or motivation existed there was not clearly conveyed.
The overall affect the film has on an audience is a positive one. It is a touching and fitting conclusion and Julianne Moore’s apology scene is a tear-jerker as is Laser’s (Josh Hutcherson) final assertion of why they belong with one another. It’s a film that makes it by on the strength of its actors and its finale it’s the journey I would’ve preferred changed somewhat. Perhaps the message lies in the title that the Kids Are All Right even if the adults aren’t but isn’t that an awfully dangerous mixed message?
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Review
FILM SYNOPSIS - Two children conceived by artificial insemination bring their biological father into their non-traditional family life.