MOVIE REVIEW: The Kids Are All Right
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT-- 3 STARS
The plight of gay marriage has greatly become a hot button political and social topic in our country this generation. Led by the California Marriage Protection Act, better known as Proposition 8, the political debate has raged over equal rights and what constitutes a "valid" or "recognized" marriage. Across the country, socially and morally, opponents and proponents for gay marriage will shout to whoever will listen on whether it's right or wrong. The heavy political weight of the issue has become almost overwhelming, which is why it's so refreshing to see a simple movie that just happens to include gay marriage, like The Kids Are All Right, completely ignore the politics at hand.
Those who haven't seen the movie are likely going prematurely judge it for its depiction of gay marriage and the shouting side-choosers are going to come out the woodwork and blast the movie without even giving it a chance. They will be wrong for doing so. The Kids Are All Right has no soapboxes, agendas, arguments, stereotypes, or side-choosing politics. It just tells a story of what the politicians forget is at the underlying heart of the issue: family and love.
The movie tells a contemporary story of a married lesbian couple of Nic (multiple Academy Award nominee Annette Bening) and Jules (fellow multiple Academy Award nominee Julianne Moore). Nic is the bread-winning, successful doctor while Jules is unsuccessfully trying to start her own landscape design business. They have been married several years and each have a teenage child through the same anonymous sperm donor from early 1990's. Joni (Alice in Wonderland's Mia Wasikowska) is an extremely smart 18-year-old and recent high school grad, who's going through her last summer at home before heading off to college. Laser (Josh Hutcherson of Bridge to Terabitha and Journey to the Center of the Earth) is her quiet, skateboarding, and introverted 15-year-old little brother.
Other than the two women married and the sperm donor part, The Kids Are All Right sounds pretty normal, doesn't it? Well, it is, and its non-political and casual normalcy is the movie's charm. The actors are so comfortable with their characters and their performances that you quickly forget their labels and see them as a normal family. Nic and Jules are typical anxious and insecure middle-aged women. They are at their own midlife crisis stages and worry about losing their daughter to college and their son to bad high school choices. Joni hasn't quite discovered herself before college and Laser has the most important question of all. He wants to know who his "father" is.
Without the knowledge of their parents, Joni and Laser find the identity of their anonymous sperm donor and look him up. Enter Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo (13 Going on 30 and the recent Shutter Island). Nineteen years ago, Paul was a cool, free-spirited college dropout who was donating sperm for money and the vague idea of helping people. Today, he's a cool, successful, and still free-spirited urban restaurateur and gardener. Initially stunned by their existence, Paul meets and clicks with Joni and Laser. He soon begins to realize what he may have been missing all of his life as a commitment-phobe and the kids start to see a possible father figure in him. When Joni and Laser introduce him to their "momses" is when our story turns and blossoms.
The Kids Are All Right, if you couldn't tell already, is not your typical summer movie and a great piece of original filmmaking. As aforementioned, where this movie wins is with it's family and love. Beyond the sexual orientation of the parents, their characters are rooted those two qualities, just like any other typical California family. Nic and Jules are not over-the-top and come across as real people. Like any single-parent situation, our characters are challenged by change when Paul comes into their lives.
The acting is casual and superb. Bening, Moore, and Ruffalo are all at the top of their games and embody their parts incredibly naturally. It's Mia Wasikowska who nearly steals the show from her more accomplished adult costars. Her character's growth shines through as the most poignant of all. While The Kids Are All Right doesn't ascend to the emotional or comedic heights of previous indie darlings like Little Miss Sunshine and Juno, but it does have its place for as a great quirky story of family and a worthy movie diversion in this summer season. Give it a try!
LESSON #1: WHEN A FATHER FIGURE IS NOT PRESENT IN A CHILD'S LIFE, THEY WILL FIND A SUBSTITUTE-- Our two teens grow up completely accepting and successful in a lesbian, dual-matriarch household. However, somewhere along the way, kids still need a father figure, not necessarily an actual father, but a male role model. If they don't have one, they will find an outlet to get that missing experience and attention, whether it's a teacher, coach, uncle, grandfather, etc. Paul embodies everything Joni and Laser were missing and wants a shot at that role.
LESSON #2: PARENTS, TRUST THAT YOU DID A GOOD JOB RAISING YOUR KIDS AND LET GO OF YOUR WORRIES AND INSECURITIES-- Nic and Jules are shining examples of the insecure and worried parents of today's teenagers, regardless of their sexual orientation. They worry about what their kids get into and the choices they make. What they, and parents in real life as well, need to do is trust and have confidence that they have educated and raised them right. Know that your children are going to make bad choices occasionally because, sometimes, that's the only way they are going to learn. If you raised them right, the kids know that you love and support them, even in mistakes.
LESSON #3: EVERY FAMILY HAS THEIR FLAWS, BUT THAT'S WHAT MAKES THEM SPECIAL-- It shouldn't take a movie, let alone a movie about a same-sex couple, to remind us that no one is perfect and no family is perfect. Just because this is a lesbian couple doesn't mean that they have any different love, successes, mistakes, or problems that the picket-fence-and-2.4-kids family that America sees as the typical has. In the end, no matter who's on the roster, you're a family that sticks together through the good and the bad.