Friday, January 14, 2011

The Kids Are All Right

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
2010. Rated R, 106 minutes.
Annette Benning
Julianne Moore
Mark Ruffalo
Mia Wasikowska
Josh Hutcherson
Yaya DaCosta
Eddie Hassell
Kunal Sharma
Zosia Mamet

Nic (Benning) and Jules (Moore) have built their loving family the new fashioned way. Many moons ago, each of the ladies was artificially inseminated, bore a child and at some point apparently prior to any of this, decided to marry each other. Their daughter Joni (Wasikowska), named after rock icon Joni Mitchell, has just turned 18 and graduated high school. She is on her way to college in a few weeks. Their son, Laser (Hutcherson), is 16. He seems to also be bright, but makes extremely poor choices in friends. For him, “the wrong crowd” is all wrapped up into Clay (Hassell), the Neanderthal he hangs out with. Clay seems destined to die a horrible death trying to perform a stunt for YouTube. Anyhoo, things are fairly mundane until the kids decide to find out who their biological father is, without their moms’ knowledge.

In short order, they discover their dad is Paul (Ruffalo), a local restaurant owner. Totally unaware that he actually has kids up to that point, he’s living the bachelor life. You see, he donated sperm 19 years ago and has since forgotten about it. Women throw themselves at him, including Tanya (DaCosta). She’s not only his “friend with benefits” but his employee, as well. Evidently, she doesn’t believe in bras. Of course, a slob like me would notice such a thing for obvious reasons. However, there’s more to it than that. Her bralessness, the afro she sometimes wears (yes, she’s Black), the seemingly no-strings-attached sex she has (with a White man, no less), mark her as a free spirit, a bit rebellious and alternative thinking. She’s a female version of Paul. Though she’s a minor character, she helps frame the movie. She is the embodiment of both his lifestyle and the opposing force he becomes to Nic.

For all intents and purposes, Nic is the patriarch of her family. She’s domineering, demanding and can’t stand that Paul has been suddenly injected into their lives. Her partner Jules appears much more the wife in a traditional sense. She’s been a stay at home mom at Nic’s behest. She’s searching for her own identity and feels neglected. The entire situation becomes volatile as Nic has frequent outbursts and increasingly drowns her sorrows in alcohol. The children grow to like Paul more and more with each visit and he becomes the first client of Jules’ fledgling landscaping company.

As is the norm when worlds collide and get turned upside down, everyone is confused by what’s going on and try to make sense of it all. To the film’s credit, so do we. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Is there even a right and wrong? What does this mean? Are the kids, or the adults, really all right? This enhances our experience because we’re working our way through it with the characters. In the end, we’re not sure we have any answers. Still, we’ve had an interesting ride with a family not as dissimilar to our own as appearances would lead most of us to believe. That said, if you're religious, or other convictions make you scoff at the notion of a nuclear family headed by two women, you might not be willing to enjoy it.

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