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Movie Review: The Kids Are Not All Right

Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right is a film that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.

It pitches itself as a “family comedy” about a long-term lesbian couple whose two children have covertly contacted their biological father. This fact in and of itself would have been enough to create many a raucous situation in the film.

Instead, this so-called comedy turns into a movie about mid-life crises, cheating spouses and the apparent tenuousness of lesbian identity.

Talented actresses Annette Bening and Julianne Moore take on the roles of lesbian life-partners Nic and Jules. The two are polar opposites. Nic is a control-freak who supports the family financially as a doctor, while Jules is more happy-go-lucky. Eventually we learn that Jules never had a “real” career because she stayed home with the kids, her son Laser (Josh Hutcherson) and Nic’s daughter Joni (Mia Wasikowska).

Although things truly start going haywire when Joni and Laser announce they have contacted their mothers’ sperm bank donor, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), we are to understand that things have not been great between Nic and Jules for a while now.

Jules wants to start her own landscaping business, something that Nic finds laughable, as she sees her lovely spouse as fluffer-headed and irresponsible. On the other hand, while trying to make love one night, Nic is completely distracted and pays little attention to the ministrations of the neglected Jules.

Enter Paul, a charming hippie who runs his own organic farm and restaurant, who will eventually wreak havoc on the entire family. Not because he was the sperm donor who “fathered” both Laser and Joni, who are both initially quite taken by their biological father. Instead, he wreaks havoc because he is an unattached man who threatens the women’s relationship, which is rather unhappy at the moment.

The second half of the film devolves into a strange mish-mash of almost slap-stick romping (heterosexual) sex scenes and loud yelling matches once the cheating is discovered. The “comedy” that the film purports to be recedes far into the distance.

It is obvious by the end of the film that Cholodenko’s purpose was to make a movie about a lesbian couple that “teaches” the viewer: “people in long-term gay relationships are just like you straight people! They stay together, have kids, have mid-life crises, cheat, fight, love—they are the same!”

While this message is admirable in many ways, it leaves me to question, is this really the message that Cholodenko wants to send when she makes one of the only mainstream films on the market today about a loving gay couple? Especially when one of these “lesbians” cheats on her partner with a man? Watching it seems surreal, like a parody of what some people would find realistic, while playing into the stereotype that lesbians are just straight women who “haven’t found the right man.”

The film ends on a stronger, more universally-satisfying family moment. Nic, Jules and Laser drive Joni to her college dorm—Joni is starting college.

We finally see the four main characters acting like a true family. All of the mixed emotions of beginning a new life, away from family, away from all that is familiar, is aptly expressed here.

If nothing else, the film’s portrayals of Joni and Laser are true to nature, as the teenagers who want to leave home to find another family, only realize in a time of crisis how much the family they already have means to them.

The Kids Are All Right will play at the Stony Brook Staller Center on Friday Nov. 19 at 9  p.m.

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