The Kids Are All Right
Distributed By: Focus Features
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Looking for a good independent film, I stumbled across The Kids Are All Right, starring Annette Benning, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. I vaguely remembered the premise of the film (I reviewed the soundtrack) and thought it clever. Then I remembered the critical acclaim the movie received and decided to check it out.
Nicole (Annette Benning) and Jules Allgood (Julianne Moore) are a married lesbian couple. Nic is an uptight, rules-oriented OB/Gyn and Jules is more of a free spirit, looking to start a landscaping business after years of being a stay at home mom to the couple's two children. Their oldest child, Joni (Mia Wasikowski), is a stable, risk avoiding eighteen year old preparing to head off to college. Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is a fifteen year old searching for an identity and too willing to take risks.
After watching his friend Clay (Eddie Hassell) interacting with his father, Laser decides he wants to meet the sperm donor who helped create the two Allgood kids. Enlisting the aide of his sister, Laser looks forward to meeting Paul Hatfield (Mark Ruffalo). After their conversation on the phone, Joni wants nothing to do with Paul, but agrees to take Laser to meet him at Paul's restaurant, unbeknownst to their moms. They learn that Paul is a free spirit who dropped out of college to pursue his dreams. He not only owns an organic restaurant, but grows most of the ingredients in a large garden a couple of blocks away. Paul relishes his freedom, including that of his love life, which is extremely casual.
Surprisingly, after meeting Paul, Jules finds she wants to get to know him better while Paul, finding he has nothing in common with Paul, can't be bothered. Upon telling Nic and Jules, they are none too pleased and request to meet Paul before allowing their kids to interact with him more. This new intrusion into their life couldn't come at a worse time. There is quite a bit of tension growing in the Allgood marriage as Jules begins to feel unappreciated and neglected. Nic seems more focused on her work and her wine than her own wife. Nic feels like Jules doesn't contribute enough to the relationship and leaves Nic to be the breadwinner and rule enforcer of the household.
The addition of Paul into the Allgoods life has some positive and negative influences. Laser realizes that his friend, Clay, is a tool and decides to act more responsibly, having more respect for himself and taking fewer risks with his safety. Joni, already feeling a bit stifled, uses Paul as an excuse to try new things and take more risks. Jules finds her first client in Paul, creating a new garden space at Paul's home. Unfortunately, his attention and the problems cropping up with Nic, lead to Jules having an affair with Paul. Of course, this all causes more of a rift between Nic and Jules, but also forces them to see the faults in their relationship and work on them. And what does Paul get from all of this - he realizes he is ready for a family. Unfortunately, he is foolish enough to take the easy way out, pushing himself on the Allgood family rather than making one of his own.
The Kids Are All Right is basically what you would call a dramedy, which by my definition is a film that contains both comedic and dramatic themes that offset one another while teaching the viewer a valuable lesson about life. By having the couple going through the growing pains be a lesbian couple, we are learning that marriage is difficult no matter whether you are gay or straight. In the almost perfect words of Jules, "Bottom line is, marriage is hard. Its really ----ing hard. Just two people slogging through the shit, year after year, getting older, changing. Its a ----ing marathon, okay? So, sometimes, you know, you're together so long, that you just... You stop seeing the other person. You just see weird projections of your own junk. Instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails and act grubby and make stupid choices, which is what I did. And I feel sick about it because I love you guys, and I love your mom, and that's the truth. Sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most. I don't know why." By having Paul be that wildly free, no attachments guy, we are reminded that being free may mean we are sacrificing something beautiful. The kids' development also teaches us something - we are our own people and sometimes it's great to take chances, other times it's better to play it safe, as long as you stay true to yourself.
Interesting side note: Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but examine the names in this film. The family name Allgood offers the impression that everything is peachy in this household, but as we see not everything is "all good" in the family relationship-wise. The pronunciation of Jules brings to mind jewels and, though her partner sometimes paints her in a paler light, we can see that this character is a multi-faceted, brightly shining individual. Her partner, Nicole's nickname is Nic. When one associates with nicks, they think of cuts and Nic definitely does have a way of cutting you with her opinions. Laser - this character seems to grow the most in this film, gaining clarity of mine and a laser focus on life. Okay, back to the review.
My only problem with this film is the chemistry between Benning and Moore. It's not hard to see them as lesbians in a relationship. It's just hard to see them as being in a relationship with each other. Something is missing there. Though that's not to say that either actor did not to a good job in portraying their respective characters. Oh...and one other thing...there was no warning about just how much sex was going to be in the movie. I mean - whoa! I'm no prude, by any means, and I know the movie is rated R, but there was a time that this much intercourse...in this many varieties...well, it would be rated X. Just saying.
So, while I wouldn't recommend that your kids watch this film, I would recommend The Kids Are All Right to every adult out there. This is a great movie with a great storyline, some amazing acting and a very sweet semi-ending. There is a lot to learn from this film and I thank co-writer/director Lisa Cholodenko for sharing this story - much of which is based upon her own relationship with her partner Wendy - with us