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The Kids Are All Right (2010)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

Although some will immediately focus on the fact that The Kids Are All Right depicts a family headed by two married lesbians, I want to set that aside and consider the merits of the film on other concerns. Many of the questions the film explores are independent of the film’s lesbian context, and these it treats with compassion, care, insight, and forthrightness. What is the draw that we feel toward knowing biological parents? Whether it be biological parents or other adults that enter a child’s life, how can parents react to a potential “intrusion” in ways that are healthy for the child? There is the standard question of how can parents guide kids without being overbearing and manipulative? How can parents draw kids toward beautiful ways? Do we recognize our own sarcastic and uncaring ways, and how they push others away? Can we take responsibility for our own failures? To what degree does sex define who we are? The Kids Are All Right delivers compelling characters and situations, portraying real human struggles that evoke our interest and care — as well as delivering uncaring words, small offenses, and major transgressions that repel us with their self-centeredness, irresponsibility, and unloving nature. In this way, the film is more about the family universal, although the lesbian context is never far from the surface.

The filmcraft in Kids is generally good — Annette Benning, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo have some particularly strong moments — but it does have weak spots that create minor distraction. A couple of the performances are not so strong and, in a few spots, dialog and character interaction don’t flow so well.

Now, to the issue set aside above: The film portrays gay marriage as having all the usual difficulties of straight marriage: petty arguments, child-rearing differences, spouses controlling or ignoring each other, and so on — committed relationships are hard, gay or straight. It portrays some of the awkward moments faced by the kids (e.g., “Do you call them both ‘mom’?”). It even shows an angle on how the kids have missed something growing up without a father (although this effect is muted by the tangled mess the film’s plot weaves). Thus, the film itself does not come off as a vehicle for gay promotion. Still, the choice of title belies a political intent to the film that is a bit distracting, but at the same time irrelevant: A fictional film where kids of gay parents turn out alright (or even “all right”) demonstrates nothing credible toward the political intent. On the other hand, some may say that the sheer normality with which a gay-led family is portrayed itself belies a political agenda. But, one thing to me is certain: Where we encounter such families in real life, they are as worthy of love as any.

All told, The Kids Are All Right is certainly worth the time if you enjoy, or are not bothered by, the lesbian context — but it’s also worthwhile on its merits aside from the gay issue. Even if the context bothers you, it’s worth the time if you can reach to understand and perhaps love more broadly. But, if gay issues get you rankled, perhaps you’d best watch something else.

Nic and Jules are a married lesbian couple. They have a teenage daughter and son born of the same sperm donor: Joni (from Nic) and Laser (from Jules). The terms of being a sperm donor allow the children, when they turn 18, to request to meet their biological father. Laser is too young, but he prods Joni into making the call. They meet Paul, and then start seeing him more and more. Nic is especially threatened by Paul’s entry into the kids’ lives, exacerbating marital problems with Jules. Joni is about to head off to college, so the clock is ticking on how all of this will turn out. Running time: 106 min.

Sexual language, sexual scenes, and side-on nudity are relatively strong in the film, including characters viewing a gay porn video. Nic and Jules’ lesbian relationship is played out fully, with pet names for each other, hand-holding, kissing, and sex. Generally speaking, the sex scenes support character development by showing relational effects on one’s level of passion.

  • Director: Lisa Cholodenko
  • Screenplay: Lisa Cholodenko and Stuart Blumberg
  • Leads: Julianne Moore, Annette Bening, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson
  • Cinematography: Igor Jadue-Lillo
  • Music: Carter Burwell, Nathan Larson, Craig Wedren

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