54th BFI London Film Festival: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right, 2010.

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko.
Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson.

The Kids Are All Right

Two children conceived by artificial insemination bring their birth father into their family life.

The Kids Are All Right
A family drama with a bit of a shake up, The Kids Are All Right stars Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a lesbian couple with two kids, each conceived by the same sperm donor. They live as a happy family and the two kids (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) seem content. That is until they decide to trace their biological father when daughter Joni (Wasikowska) turns eighteen. They track down their sperm donor parent Paul (Mark Ruffalo) and gradually bring him into not only theirs but the whole family’s lives.

I couldn’t help but feel that the lesbian relationship between Nic (Bening) and Jules (Moore) felt forced and unnatural. As good as both actresses are there was very little chemistry between their characters and they made up for lacking in that area by over doing the touching of each other. I don’t mean that in a sexual way but if we were to see a straight couple touching and stroking each other that much it would make us think “why are they treating each other as pets?” But maybe that’s just me…

There also appears to be an underlying tension between Nic and Jules. At first I wasn’t sure if it was because I didn’t believe in their relationship but when Paul arrives on the scene the family unit implodes slowly but surely from within.

Paul, well played by the laid back Ruffalo, receives a call out of the blue at work one day from the sperm donor company asking him for his permission to be contacted by someone that was a result of his donation. He agrees, although he seems to be unfazed by quite a major event. Throughout the film Ruffalo interacts with others like a stoned teenager, but this is not a bad thing. His easy going nature and environmentally friendly lifestyle go hand in hand with his demeanor.

Paul is eventually introduced to the “moms” and they appear to take to him. So much so that Jules agrees to help him landscape his garden. But this is when emotions go crazy and things take a turn for the worst – well, in Nic’s case anyway.

Nic gets to a point where the arrival of Paul has disorientated the family dynamic too much for her liking – “I feel like he’s taking over my family.” Her displeasure is portrayed perfectly in a shot where Nic is sitting on the sofa by herself whilst Jules, Paul and the two kids prepare dinner in the kitchen behind her in a more traditional family set up.

I often judge the level of a films entertainment by how long it takes for me to look at my watch for the first time (I didn’t glance at the time once during Avatar, that movie simply flew by). Whilst watching The Kids Are All Right I didn’t check my watch until an hour and twenty minutes in, which is pretty impressive since I wasn’t really aware that I was that engaged with the film. Maybe the subtle way the family dilemma draws the audience in will become one of the charms of the movie.

One aspect that did let it down though was the ending. Obviously how a film ends has the final impact on the audience: think Fight Club, Se7en, The Usual Suspects, The Sixth Sense (the list really is endless). All these films have great endings, and even the Bruce Willis film Surrogates, which I thought was pretty awful throughout, had an ending that was good enough to make me re-evaluate my opinion of the film as a whole. The conclusion of The Kids Are All Right left one major question unanswered for me, one that I don’t want to go in to too much detail about at the risk of revealing too much, but I’m sure I am not the only one who will feel this way after watching this film.

Although it tries to mix up the family drama element with an interesting premise, it ultimately tries too hard and unfortunately that takes the edge of what is otherwise a fairly decent film from writer/director Lisa Cholodenko.

Jon Dudley is a freelance film and television journalist and his 17-minute short film Justification was shown at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

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