February 26, 2011

They Have Issues Too


What is it about dysfunctional families that always make them to topic of a dry, ironic, witty indie comedy with darker undertones? I thought the trend bucked with Little Miss Sunshine, but, lo and behold, we have another of this devilish subgenre vying for Best Picture rights this year. The Kids Are All Right paints the whole "kooky family" thing in a new light by having both parents be gay, and layers this new idea onto strong writing and good performances. However, I do have something to say before we keep going. All you people out there who heralded this as the best thing ever, and how Annette Bening totally deserves that Oscar over everyone else, I say to you. CALM DOWN!!!!!

They have issues too...

Nic and Jules are two women, very much in love, and raising a family. Nic is the hardcore bread winner of the group, what with her position at some upscale doctor. Jules is the more carefree of the pair, always trying out new job opportunities, but never really fitting into any comfortable niche, much to the chagrin of Nic. We enter the picture well into their relationship, and it's immediately clear that it has started to go stale. Their relationship with their two kids, however, is anything but. The eldest, Joni, has just turned 18 and is college bound. The youngest, Laser, is fifteen, and convinces Joni to one day satisfy a curiosity of his. Seeing as a lesbian couple can't have kids the natural way, Nic and Jules enlisted the help of the same, anonymous sperm donor. Laser really wants to the guy, and since Joni's now 18, she can legally make the call. Enter Paul, a cool, laid back, quite possibly perpetually stoned restaurant owner and gardener. He's the sperm donor, and the sudden appearance of his two "children" on his front step makes him suddenly want a family life. So, he begins to ingratiate himself into the family, and everything seems pretty good. But, then, shit happens, things get taking to far, and soon the appearance of Paul into their lives throws Nic and Jules' relationship out of whack.

It's a good story, and does a good job with dealing with the cliches that come with this genre. All the characters feel like real people, despite their eccentricities. They are all flawed, show remorse and guilt, and get hurt in convincing ways. The script is biting, but the dialogue sometimes gets in the way of the plot. There are few scenes that seem to have been added as a way for the filmmakers to say "Look how clever we are!" But apart from a few qualms, that Best Original Screenplay nom was well deserved... though Inception still better win.

A lot of praise has been heaped on Annette Bening, and justifiably so; she's very good. As Nic, she's a veritable badass, always tough and strong in the face of her opponents, and displaying a passive aggressive nature unlike any we've seen. She's no stiff when it comes to the dramatic stuff too; Bening has always been good at that.

But all the praise that's been heaped on her should have gone elsewhere, because I honestly believe that Bening, as good as she is, the weakest of the main five. Julianne Moore is just as good as the weaker one of the pair, going through the most significant character arc of the whole thing. Mark Ruffalo is also great as the laid back Paul. A lot of his lines come off as searingly uncomfortable, but that's the way it should have been, and Ruffalo nails every single one. Josh Hutcherson, formerly a guy who started in stupid action/fantasy films geared for kids, breaks out of that mold as Laser, and does a bang up job doing it.

But the MVP of this group is, without a doubt, Mia Waskiowska as Joni. Her's was the most likable character, and the sweetest. She had the most heartfelt and honest dialogue in the whole thing and Wasikowska knocks it out of the park. She should have gotten the nom, not Bening. Oh well.

Scene Stealers!

Despite what I just said, The Kids Are All Right is a very well acted movie. Bening is being billed as the star, so all the praise goes to her. I just think it's unfair, because everyone else was more than her equal.

Writer/Director Lisa Cholodenko makes her mainstream debut here. She does a good job handling her dialogue and her actors, but the direction seems slightly stilted in some areas. I understand that this isn't a movie that required a Fincher-esque touch, but, even so. Some of her choices just seemed a tad conventional. It's her writing that really stands out, but it does step too far into the realm of overdramatic. Pretty much all plot development is relegated to a confrontation of sorts, handled in the most passive aggressive manner possible, and this grinding stone against stone approach is really uncomfortable, but not in Black Swan way. There were times when I couldn't watch.

Let me divert your hate. Don't get me wrong, The Kids Are All Right is great, crafting wonderful characters out of archetypes we already know, and providing them with some great dialogue to boot. The story is familiar, but handled in a way that seems fresh. I just think people are making too big a deal about it. I saw it, yeah. Yeah, it was good. Was it worthy of Best Picture nom? Sure, I would make that claim. Does it find it's way into my Top 10 of 2010? Not even close, because at the end of the day, enough holds it back from achieving true greatness. I left the film feeling as if I'd seen a good movie, and that's about it. I didn't feel like I'd been changed by watching; I didn't feel like I had been taken on breathtaking journey. I was just "Yeah, that was good." And, I'm sorry, but "That was good" is not enough to enter my realm of awesomeness. Kids is good, to be sure. But, come on, people. You built this up to be the next messiah or something. Temper your expectations next time, alright?


  1. The script is good, and the cast does an impressive job of keeping it alive, but I just wish there was a little more to this film, and that I felt more attached to this all. Good Review!

  2. Yes! Bening is good but it's nothing that we haven't seen from her before from say... 20 of her previous movies. I really don't think she deserved an Oscar nomination, let alone being a runner-up as we speak. The movie itself was painfully overrated for me, I didn't find it particularly funny or incisive.