3 November 2010

Inglorious Baster- THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT Review

As a new day dawns after Halloween night, we find ourselves firmly on the road to awards season. The Weinsteins are rubbing their palms together in anticipation and everyone and their mother is trying to look worthy of Oscar glory. In the running for the gold, there's always an indie darling that becomes a favourite before the nominations are announced, and this year's very own Little Miss Sunshine is arguably The Kids Are All Right.

The titular kids are the two children of happily married lesbian couple Jules and Nic. When their eldest reaches her 18th birthday, her younger brother asks that she use her newly grown-up status to put him in contact with the sperm donor who fathered both of them. Their search leads them to Paul, an organic produce restaurateur who comes into their lives at the same time as their parents are on the cusp of a rough patch.

The Oscars tend to pile up around films with oh-so-modern topics, like homosexuality and artificial insemination. In this case, I don't really think you can call The Kids Are All Right Oscar bait as much as you can say that the Academy suicidally chases fare like this upstream like a demented salmon. For a change, we have a film that deserves the hype on account of its strengths and not its themes.

When I speak of its strengths, I'm talking about the performances of the cast, the film's greatest assets by a long stretch. It's unclear about who will be eligible for Best Actress come February, Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, and who will fit into the Best Supporting Actress category, but both of them are shoo-ins for recognition. I'm not as convinced that Mark Ruffalo will get a nod for his likeable turn as Paul, but I think he probably should. He plays a character whose foot is rarely far from his mouth, and he plays the awkwardness with charm rather than false humour.

While the recently broadened field of Best Picture nominations, coupled with the hype this is gathering, it seems likely that the film will sneak into the top ten, but I personally think the Academy is more likely to be blinkered by the quality of the cast rather than swayed by how great the filmmaking is. Credit where it's due, Lisa Cholodenko has written a warm and well-observed script, and she's directed it with panache as well, allowing for a naturalistic mode of storytelling without ever straying into the murky realms of mumblecore.

On the other hand, I feel it's just a tad obvious in places. Particularly, a plot turn that subverts whatever goodwill you had for one particular character is surprising, but only because you thought the film was going to turn out a little more intelligent than that. Kevin Smith, for one, managed to pull off a much better version of the same twist in Chasing Amy. Elsewhere, the representation of a slightly unorthodox home situation is, for some reason, obscured by the smoky lens of a more traditional dysfunctional American family.

It's great to see two actresses like Moore and Bening oscillating between gender roles in the jostling state of play that Cholodenko has set up, but we already knew going into this film that lesbians are people too. You don't have to strive to show them alternately conforming to the roles of a heterosexual mother and father in the way that this film does. It all feels very safe. It's ultra-liberal, disguising itself as conservative, and I don't know why a feel-good film has to try and make absolutely everybody feel good- conservatives aren't going to see a film about a family with two mothers, so why appease them? In this respect, it's pandering, but only in this respect.

One other quibble I had was in how poorly served Mark Ruffalo and Josh Hutcherson are, in the end. Both of them just sort of pale in significance very abruptly, Hutcherson earlier on than Ruffalo. Hutcherson has some great character stuff early on in the film as he interacts with a douchebag best friend, but that just stops after about half an hour. He's the impetus for the plot to start, and without any feeling of his presence thereafter, he's little more than a plot device. It's a shame, because he holds his own with the rest of the highly skilled cast.

I found it easy to like The Kids Are All Right, and it's definitely more substantial than certain other Little Miss Sunshine-lite films that come out around this time of year. The cast are terrific and it's largely very warm and natural. The thing is, I don't believe it's one of the ten best films of the year, as the Oscars will surely contest. I think that it's more like the best of its type this year, a type being favoured by an Academy that's always trying to appear contemporary. It plays the subject matter very safe, but without any reaction to the awards hype, this is a perfectly serviceable indie dramedy that should entertain most viewers.

The Kids Are All Right is now playing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Kids Are All Right, why not share your comments below? If you know what the deal is with the recent rash of artificial insemination comedies, please enlighten me...

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


nicholaslyons said...

Wow. Your blog is fantastic; I love the presentation. And you write astoundingly well. I really want to see this film. Your review was a relief! I love hearing about good independent films. :)

- Nick L. from RT

mike said...

You review the movie very well. I thought i’m the only one who feel that Josh and Mark’s plot is unfinished. The family have their right to be left alone, but i think it’s very unfair how they throw and blame it all on Mark’s character.
and yes, this movie’s best asset is the performance, esp by the leading ladies. and honestly i’m more into a Julianne Moore’s supporter if we talk about Best Actress. I don’t understand how they can say that Bening is a lock and forget about Moore.