The Kids Are All Right

I really wanted to enjoy The Kids are All Right. Going in I was expecting a light, funny, intelligent comedy about an interesting modern family. In the end, however, I wasn’t all that impressed.

The Kids are All Right is about a lesbian couple played by Julianne Moore and Annette Bening and their two children 18-year-old Joni and 15-year-old Laser played by Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson respectively. Joni has just graduated high school and with some pushing on the part of her brother decides to call the guy whose donated sperm was used to impregnate the moms. That dude’s name is Paul and the normally very entertaining Mark Ruffalo plays him.

Now if you were presented with this premise, just this sort of over long log line, what story would you tell? I know I would tell the story of the kids and use it to explore the idea of homosexual parenthood and the bizarre act of people using a stranger’s seed. That to me is infinitely more interesting than a story about the dysfunctions in the marriage of Moore and Bening.

My disinterest and boredom with the squabbles and bickering of the parents has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that it is two women; it has more to do with the waste of an excellent and original story. As far as I know there has not been a film about teens born from donated sperm, certainly nothing as mainstream as this, starring bankable actors and actresses. Instead The Kids Are All Right seems more interested in telling the same old boring upper-middle class suburban marriage falls apart at the slightest interruption to the status quo.

Annette Bening does what she’s been doing since American Beauty by playing an uptight control freak, this time she’s a bit looser, which was occasionally refreshing, but mostly it just felt extremely cliché. Julianne Moore plays a bit against character as the fun-loving, new agey, middle-aged hippie. I found Moore’s performance a bit nerve-racking in the beginning, and then her character makes a few decisions that were so bizarre and stupid to me that I just sort of lost it.

Now before you think I’m completely writing this flick off let me just say that there are moments that were incredibly intelligent and equally as entertaining. Every one of those moments involved the kids. Especially Mia Waskowska her performance was incredible, something about the way she got across her character’s unassuming intelligence and her, in a way, contradictory need for approval really floored me in a way few teenage character’s do, plus she was really quite funny. Hutcherson was also quite funny in almost all of his scenes in a much more obvious (but in a good way) and jokey manner. Hutcherson’s friendship with a mildly psychotic neighbor kid was also interesting and realistic, it’s one of the few honest teenage friendships in a film where yes jock type straight-laced looking kids in this day and age do in fact hang out with insane punk rock junkie types, it’s just the accepting kind of world we live in now. It’s just too bad these characters have felt more like tangents to the director’s intended story.

Speaking of acceptance, the portrayal of the homosexual relationship was one thing I really felt the director Lisa Cholodenko along with her co-writer Stuart Blumberg got right. Now when I say right I don’t necessarily mean true to life, this I do not know, I have never known a seriously committed lesbian couple so I do not know how they or their children would be treated, I do however know that the least interesting thing they could do would be to have the kid’s having to deal with their peers mockery for having “two moms”. I applaud the writing team for that, however, as much respect as I have for that aspect of the film, I would like to heap on doubly so my disdain for another aspect of the writing.

If this film wins any writing award, especially from the academy, I will be mildly perturbed, for really only one reason, but this is just so glaring and annoying that it took me out of the film every time it happened. I am speaking of course of naming Josh Hutcherson’s character Laser. Holy crap man, why, I mean that reads to me like a first draft kind of thing, where your put it in as like a joke, with maybe a couple of jokes about it strewn throughout and then in subsequent drafts when you realize that it is stupid you take out all the jokes, which the must have done, but then the writers forgot to do a find and replace function for the name Laser to replace it with Ansell or Vincent or some sort of arty name. Naming the kid Laser just felt over written and kind of twee, and if that was the point then it was a bad idea because they didn’t need to give the audience anymore reason to dislike the annoying, bickering, overly hip parents.

I expected to like The Kids are All Right more, instead what I got was a really dull experience punctuated by glimpses of the kind of movie it could have been. Taking the good with the bad, at least I know to look out for any and every flick Mia Wasikowska does from now on, and I have another reason to really like Josh Hutcherson besides his (surprisingly awesome) previous work on Zathura.

 

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