Friday, July 9, 2010

Reverend’s Reviews: Lesbian Movie All Right

Nic and Jules are a seemingly happy, committed lesbian couple with two teenaged children, an athletic son and a college-bound daughter, conceived through artificial insemination via an anonymous sperm donor. When the kids secretly decide to seek out their father, however, it results in all sorts of complications for this unorthodox family.

This is the fertile plot of The Kids Are All Right, a new dramedy directed and co-written by lesbian filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko (High Art, Laurel Canyon). The film got a generally favorable reaction at January’s Sundance Film Festival and opened the Los Angeles Film Festival last month. It receives a national theatrical release starting today.

Academy Award nominees Annette Bening and Julianne Moore star as, respectively, Nic and Jules. Seemingly a textbook case of opposites attracting, Jules is an artistic but jobless, wannabe landscaper while Nic is a driven, successful ob-gyn doctor. The always welcome Mark Ruffalo (Shutter Island) plays Paul, the former sperm donor turned popular restaurateur who unwittingly comes not only between the women and their partial-progeny but also between Nic and Jules themselves.


The cast, which also includes Mia Wasikowska, who made a splash earlier this year in the title role of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and Josh Hutcherson as Jules’ and Nic’s kids, turns in uniformly excellent performances. I hadn’t seen Bening in a few years, not since her turn as gay writer Augusten Burroughs’ unhinged mother in 2006’s Running with Scissors. Subsequently, I had forgotten somewhat how good and honest an actress she is, but The Kids Are All Right quickly reminded me.

With so much talent in front of and behind the camera, I had expected the script for The Kids Are All Right to be better than it is. The dramatic and comedic elements grow increasingly uneven as the film moves along. Cholodenko can’t be faulted exclusively since the screenplay was co-written by Stuart Blumberg, who wrote the similarly imbalanced Keeping the Faith, the 2000 movie about a priest (played by Edward Norton) and a rabbi (Ben Stiller) who are best friends until a woman comes between them.

As the relationships between Jules and Nic and their children deteriorate, the script becomes strained and introduces a hard-to-swallow sexual relationship between Jules and Paul. While Paul’s motivation seems somewhat clear — he likes his new role as a father and would like a family of his own, albeit without the responsibility of actually raising children — Jules’ decision to get intimately involved with him is baffling on pretty much every count: as a spouse, as a mother, as Paul’s contracted landscaper and, of course, as a lesbian! Hello?


I can’t help but feel that Paul ends up unfairly vilified at the film’s climax. In fact, none of the males in The Kids Are All Right are treated well with the exception of Laser, Nic and Jules’ son, and even he is cursed with a ridiculous name. Laser’s best friend is an immature skateboarder who likes to urinate on stray dogs, and the older Latino man Jules hires as a landscaping assistant is falsely accused of using drugs and fired once he catches on to what Jules and Paul are doing during work hours.

In the press notes, co-screenwriter Blumberg states: “There isn’t a message (in the film) about gay marriage. There is maybe some of that old joke, ‘Gay people deserve to be as miserable as straight people…” While the movie may not make a political statement and doesn’t delve into the pros and cons of gay marriage, it does uphold the value and significance of committed relationships whether between members of the same or opposite sex.

Despite its script’s considerable shortcomings, The Kids Are All Right is a timely, engaging story that provides the sublime pleasure of watching two lovely, exceptional actresses in great form, and as lovers to boot.

Reverend's Rating: B-

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

Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.

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