The Kids Are All Right

The Kids Are All Right


Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

"I dunno - if I had read some more Russian novels..." wonders Jules (Julianne Moore) near the end of The Kids Are All Right, speculating about what might better have equipped her to face her current domestic predicaments.

It might at first be far from obvious what possible light the classic novels of Leo Tolstoy and his ilk could cast on the unorthodox circumstances of a postmodern nuclear family like Jules'. After all, she and her lesbian partner Nic (Annette Bening) have each had a child through the same anonymous sperm donor, and are now loving parents in a fatherless family.

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Yet The Kids Are All Right is not concerned with repressing desire, or coming out of the closet, or coping with prejudice, or any of the other themes that typify so much gay cinema directed at a mainstream audience. On the contrary, Jules and Nic have been together for decades, live comfortably in their southern Californian home, are accepted by their parents, friends and neighbours and are beginning to face the prospect of their own children - 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and 18-year-old Joni (Mia Wasikowska) – becoming adults themselves and flying the coop.

This is an established middle-class family like any other - and with problems like any other, except perhaps in the sense that, as Tolstoy so memorably put it, "each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way". So when Joni, at Laser's urging, makes contact with their biological father Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the laid-back 'interloper' serves to concentrate tensions in the family that were, in fact, already there. With late developer Joni about to head off to college and increasingly asserting her independence, stay-at-home mum Jules seeks new employment as a landscape designer, and turns to an extra-marital (and heterosexual) affair for the kind of appreciative validation that she feels the controlling Nic has long since stopped showing her. Meanwhile, Laser starts working out for himself that his mothers and father might be right after all in their disapproval of his best friend Clay (Eddie Hassell).

Co-written by Cholodenko (herself a lesbian with a child by anonymous sperm donation) and Stuart Blumberg (himself a sperm donor in college), The Kids Are All Right is a whip-smart, often very funny family drama, presenting observations on domestic life that are all too uncomfortably recognisable. Here is where Cholodenko's film is at its most slyly subversive – for in showing this 'perfect lesbian family' to be as 'fucked up' as every family, Cholodenko has succeeded in assimilating her queer film to a straight story whose discontents, dysfunctions, neuroses and infidelities bear all the familiar universality of the Russian novels.

On the one hand, it is a miracle of mainstreaming – but in making her film just like any other family drama, Cholodenko also risks bringing a certain generic blandness to her 'unconventional family'. Perhaps that is the acceptable price of equality – while there is certainly nothing ordinary here in the sharpness of the dialogue or the honesty of the performances.

Reviewed on: 26 Oct 2010
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The children of a lesbian couple hunt down their biological dad with comic results.
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Read more The Kids Are All Right reviews:

Stephen Carty ****1/2

Director: Lisa Cholodenko

Writer: Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg

Starring: Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Kunal Sharma, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet, Joaquin Garrido, Rebecca Lawrence, Lisa Eisner, Eric Eisner, Sasha Spielberg, James MacDonald, Margo Victor

Year: 2010

Runtime: 106 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


London 2010

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