Saturday, February 12, 2011

#57: The Kids Are All Right

Two lesbian moms, their sperm donor and their kids come together in The Kids Are All Right to create the proverbial magic of the movies. The kinds that sweeps us off our feet, evokes myriad emotions and makes us wonder what is it that makes a flawless movie. Does it take fabulously written characters, does it take brilliant actors to enact those characters or does it take a refreshingly innovative script? Well, the fact of the matter is, when all three work in unison, what you have us is a movie like The Kids Are All Right.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) play a middle-aged lesbian couple, as their kids Joni and Laser live the typical teenager life, who furtively dope and have unexpressed crushes. Being 15 and 18 respectively, a sense of rebellion is building up in them towards their Mums and specifically towards Nic. Between Jules and Nic, the latter is presented as the partner who wears the pants in this family; the assertive Mom who doesn't miss a chance to remind her children about simple things like writing Thank You notes. Nic likes being in control and wouldn't yield any of it- whether it's to her children or Jules. Enter Paul (Mark Ruffalo), whose sperm the couple had used eighteen years back to have their kids. Prodded on by her step-brother, Joni gets in touch with Paul and thus begins a new chapter for their family .The kids take a liking to the smooth and suave Paul who runs his own restaurant and rides a bike- things their Mums would never agree to. The newly formed bond between the kids and Paul begins to irk Nic but things take a turn for the worse when Jules takes up a landscaping assignment for Paul's restaurant. The story is the progression of the changing dynamics of the relationship the 5 of them share.

Annette Bening with her act as the domineering Nic is fabulous. She's perky, emotional, rude, affectionate, possessive and more, while delivering what should count as her best performance ever. When she is hurting, you feel the pain. Her protective aura around her family is the most definitive trait of her character and the story uses this as the fulcrum to build drama. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo round up an immaculate performance by the cast whose company you'll thoroughly enjoy. Josh Hutcherson and Mia Wachikowska are equally adept in their roles as the teenage 'kids'.

A word for the writers - Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Bloomberg- whose brilliant screenplay beautifully brings out a few subtle nuances in the beginning of the story that later go on to become critical plot determinants. The character traits are etched with such precision that I will be mighty surprised if this doesn't win the Oscar for Best Original Writing. Here's a trivia- Lisa had put off working on this movie as she herself had got pregnant through an anonymous sperm donor in 2006 and eventually resumed work on the project only in 2009. Maybe this break did her good because this is actually the kind of script for which the phrase - 'no praise is enough' was originally coined for.

I am finally going to cap this one off with a confession. In the last 10 years, only 4 Hollywood productions have touched me to the point of breaking down while watching the movie. The Pursuit of Happyness, Julie and Julia, Up in the Air and Up. The Kids Are All Right came very close to being a very worthy addition to that list.

Rating: 8.5/10


spiderman! said...

Just one question. Except the lesbian part what is different in this movie? Change the mode of the family and the story is a very very ordinary run of the mill fare?

IssacMJ said...

For one it's brilliantly written. Every action has a trigger and a motivation. Why does Laser want to meet his Dad - it's half a second scene of fighting between Clay and his Dad bonding that sets him thinking of what his Dad might be like. And this holds true for every character. Every movie has a build-up of conflict and resolution - the point is how does one write it.

Secondly, the performances do justice to the writing. Did you ever feel while watching the movie- that an emotion by a character was out of place or unwarranted.

Can you give me an example of another such run-of-the-mill-fare movie that has such character exposition or such neat performances that come close with a similar story?

On the lesbian part: Of course, the angle gives it an added dimension but the context is a choice of the writer. One can't blame them for wanting to make it different and bring about a new set of dynamics.

If this were a straight couple and one had an adulterous relationship, we would've said 'Ah we've seen this before' but for Jules' to actually seek fulfilment outside her sexual preference is a sign of the frustration. She didn't cheat him with another lesbian, she took a leap and that's what's great drama is all about :-)

spiderman! said...

Since all others are run-of-the-mill I cannot recollect any other movie like this. All others which deal with such issues have far more in terms of content - Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Revolutionary Road (I didn't like it but that had still better content).

On the lesbian front - how is it different from any other form of adultery ? You are untrue either ways - if you sleep with another woman while being in a relationship with one or if you are gay, then you have hidden it as well so far. So how is that a leap in any way ?

I am certain that this movie will receive extremely rave reviews for being path-breaking etc. If that were to happen, I think we should slowly resign ourselves to a stage of creative bankruptcy in times to come.

The best way to treat homosexuality or any such taboo subjects is to make it look as part of the context, rather than THE context itself.

I think we will have to agree to disagree on the merit of the movie and finally its the feeling it invokes in each of us.

IssacMJ said...

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was superb indeed. I didn't like Revolutionary Road either- got unnecessarily intense at times.

I never said this was a 'path breaking or a brilliant movie' because of the lesbian part. For me it works because of the nuances in the writing and simply the craft of it. And I don't think worldwide people are calling it pathbreaking either because it is not. Lesbian relationship themes are not uncommon themes in Hollywood.

But like you said, we'll split on this one.