(*homocinematically inclined)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Reel Thoughts: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Marriage is hard, especially when there’s a whole segment of the population working overtime to deny you the very right. It’s refreshing then to watch a film like The Kids Are All Right where the fact that the parents are two women is utterly commonplace. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play Nic and Jules, an upper middle class, comfortable couple with a son and daughter conceived via artificial insemination. As the proud moms get ready to send Joni (Mia Wasikowska of Alice in Wonderland) off to college, their lives are turned upside-down. At the urging of her brother Laser (Josh Hutcherson), Joni contacts their donor father, who turns out to be Paul, a funky restaurateur (Mark Ruffalo) who’s ducked commitment his whole life. Faster than you can say, “Guess who’s coming to dinner,” Paul inserts himself into Nic and Jules’ lives in very different ways.

The Kids Are All Right moves past the gay marriage debate to the question of what comes next. Nic and Jules are great mothers, but there are cracks in their perfect family unit that the outsider brings to a head. Nic is a perfectionist and Jules is a dreamer who never seems to settle on a job very long. Their children mirror them, Joni being the over-achiever and Laser being the underachiever who’s drifting toward juvenile delinquency. Paul bonds with Jules in a not-so-appropriate way after he hires her to design his back yard, which leads to the biggest controversy in The Kids Are All Right. Out director Lisa Cholodenko and writer Stuart Blumberg (Keeping the Faith) have fun making a mess of Nic and Jules’ carefully constructed life, but the confrontations and revelations are dramatic and ring true, especially during a buoyant dinner party at Paul’s where it looks like everything is going to “be all right”, but turns out to be anything but.

The Kids Are All Right is a smart, well-written slice of modern life that explores real issues facing GLBT families and married couples in general. How do you get past a betrayal when you can’t really face the relationship issues that brought you there in the first place? The line, “So this is my fault?” is uttered, without an ounce of self-awareness. Do children of same sex couples miss the influence of an opposite sex parent? Do breadwinner spouses secretly want their less-motivated partners to fail in order to maintain control over them? Too much is left open at the end, and some of the plot points are hard to swallow, but Cholodenko infuses the film with a sometimes raunchy and freewheeling spirit that is very appealing, and her fantastic cast bare all in bringing it to life, especially Ruffalo, Moore and the gorgeous Yaya DaCosta (The Messenger).

While The Kids Are All Right isn’t the feel-good comedy it seems from the trailer, you’ll find it a thought-provoking look at modern parenting.

UPDATE: The Kids Are All Right is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from

Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.