"Watching each other get old and grow apart and deal with the everyday crap, is difficult, no matter what your sexual orientation is"
The Kids Are All Right is this Autumn's alternative family comedy drama, one of the first of its kind in the mainstream, depicting a gay couple and their two children, and the ups and downs of family life in suburbia. There would be nothing massively original about Lisa Cholodenko's latest family fair if the family did not centre around a gay couple, but I think it's our natural curiosity that allows the film to work. For those of us not in the know, one wonders how a gay family might look, how do they navigate not only possible prejudice at the school parents evening, but just day to day life as same sex parents, or explaining to the children why there's no Daddy around, and helping them explain that to their friends. However this film wisely skips ahead of the, shock, this is a film about lesbians part, and straight to the middle of family chaos, attitude from the kids, juggling a relationship, each other, and a mid-life crisis.
The Kids Are All Right centres around Nic, played superbly by Annette Bening and Jules,played by Julianne Moore, who live with their two teenage children Joni, played by Mia Wasikowska and Laser, Josh Hutcherson, who live in their trendy, LA suburban house. Like any couple who've lived together for over a decade Joni and Jules have their problems, not helped by the fact that the two are almost polar opposites of each other. Nic is the uptight, controlling perfectionist, work-aholic doctor who sometimes needs the odd glass of wine to take the edge off. Jules is the so laid back she's almost horizontal type, who was almost an architect and is now thinking, maybe about being a landscape gardener, if the planets line up and the feng shui is right that day (or that's the impression we get any way) and once she's bought the expensive truck and equipment. You get the picture. Both characters are equally loveable as they are highly annoying, and watching the two winding each other up over dinner with passive aggressive comments at the gardening aisle in the D.I.Y supermarket, are all things that any one of us who have ever been in a relationship can identify with.
The drama unfolds however when thoughtful and highly intelligent Joni, about to leave for college, gets asked by her younger brother Lazer if she can help him track down their biological Father. In doing so the two unleash a torrent of unexpected mayhem, when they invite their new found Dad, Paul, home to meet 'The mom's' as they are affectionately called. The Californian Eco farmer/restaurant owner, played by a laid back Mark Ruffalo, who prescribes to the hippie c'est la vie attitude and makes being a middle aged single vegetable farmer look about the coolest thing ever, however not all of the characters agree. Nic,not surprisingly feels that Paul represents everything that is insufferable and grating about the hippie lifestyle that she feels makes a living out of avoiding responsibility, in fact maybe Paul highlights all those similar attributes in Jules, that Nic finds so annoying, and dangerously this fact is not lost on Jules herself. The tension that these and surrounding arguments creates builds to devastating consequences that makes the whole family readdress what it means to be family.
What I loved about this film is it's honesty. Jules is such a refreshing character, despite her flaws, and is played so well by Julianne Moore, in what is quite an unusual role for her. In the face of a catastrophe for the family placed at her feet and caused by her own hands, she admits to Nic, in a heartbreakingly moving speech, that relationships are hard, and getting old sucks, and watching each other get old and grow apart and deal with the everyday crap, is difficult, no matter what your sexual orientation is. As well as scenes of awkward sex between the two, trying to get each other off by the usual routine of gay porn and a vibrator, and then having to explain the gay porn to a stunned Lazer when he accidentally finds it, the film presents life as we know it, routine, dull and sometimes, despite all our best efforts, we make mistakes.
However, having said that I felt on some level the film was detrimental and disrespectful to the whole concept of what it means to be gay. Without wanting to spoil the plot I felt that the concept of needing a man to come and save the day, or ruin the day, as it were took away from the solidarity of a gay relationship, as any relationship, no matter how strained, deserves the right to still be treated as a real relationship.
The message of the film is clear by the end as Joni leaves for college and the family become a unit again, that family love and forgiveness prevail over all, however I just can't help think how much forgiveness there would have been if this had been a film about a straight couple. Despite this I really did enjoy this family romp ,(no pun intended) if for nothing else, it reminds us that no body has the perfect relationship, or family, but acceptance and forgiveness will always win the day.
The Kids Are Alright hits UK cinemas on the 29th October 2010