film review: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

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The Kids Are All Right poster - Annette Bening Julianne MooreA week or two ago I tweeted an interesting article from Awards Daily discussing some of the early contenders in the Oscar race for Best Lead Actress. Thankfully it looks like this year is going to be a much better year for women than last year and one of the movies that’s providing a lot of buzz about the category is The Kids Are All Right.

Unfortunately I didn’t really like the movie but Annette Bening and Julianne Moore both put in strong performances as Nic and Jules, the lesbian parents of a couple of somewhat angsty teenage children. I don’t know if I’d be ready to call them as real contenders just yet, so until I see more of other tipped performances all I can really say is that they’re in with a shout.

I would find it hard to believe that either of them will win though. The early talk is splitting vote I think, with some going to Annette Bening and some for Julianne Moore. It seems unlikely that both of them will be nominated for the same film. I know it happens but I don’t think the film is strong enough for it, and add to that the fact that I don’t think either of them really has a scene that’s memorable enough to point to and go “There’s an Oscar winning performance”.

The other big issue is that typically you see the Oscar going to a woman who’s carried the film on her own and neither of them do it here. That said, with the reviews this film has been getting, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility… If one of them is going to win then, even though I would dearly love to see Julianne Moore win an Oscar, I think Annette Bening is the more likely candidate. She’s the stronger character and I think they’re more likely to go for that.

By the way, if I were to call it now, having only seen 3 of the lauded performances – I am very much looking forward to seeing Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams efforts – I’d have to go with Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone, her muted determination is the centerpiece of a fantastic film which really deserves to be seen by more people. I can’t imagine that she won’t get a nomination, the Academy seems to like giving Best Actress nominations to younger women, but whether she’ll win if she’s up against someone of the stature of Annette Bening, Hilary Swank or Julianne Moore is another question.

All this tells you nothing about The Kids Are All Right though.

The Kids Are All Right is about a lesbian family whose children (who both came from the same donor) decide to go look up their donor father, played by Mark Ruffalo. Simple enough premise. Perhaps too simple.

Actually no. It’s not too simple. If you’ve got the script and plot then the premise needn’t be complicated. Unfortunately this is where I think The Kids Are All Right falls down. I’m sorry, I know a lot of critics seems to think this film was brilliant but personally, I thought it was seriously lacking.

I actually thought it felt half finished. There were loose ends a go-go in the film. I don’t think these are particularly spoilers because, well, how can you spoil stuff that doesn’t tie up? But if you want to look away… What happened with Laser’s friend? What happened to Joni’s fella? Or her other friend for that matter? In fact, what happened to Paul?

Aside from Nic and Jules I dont think anyone actually learns anything in this film… And if we weren’t learning anything then why were we looking at? Now ok, I don’t necessarily have to see loads of things happening in a film. I have no problem with the whole “slice of life” concept of film-making. But this can hardly be considered an examination of a slice of life if we abandon most of the details along the way. In the end are we just supposed to pretend that half the film didn’t happen? Honestly, what the hell was the point?

And another thing. I understand, there’s no reason to not bring a bit of levity to a drama, or a bit of tension to a comedy but if you’re doing it it needs to be done well. I honestly felt like this film was quarter comedy and quarter drama. Where the hell was the rest of it? Plodding along in no-man’s land to get to the scenes with tension and levity, that’s where.

And while I’m at it. The characters too were pretty thin on the ground. Again, aside from Nic and Jules, all our players are very static. Now, I suppose it’s difficult to fully realise a character when the people they are reacting to keep disappearing into the ether, but come on. I know the two ladies are important but surely we could have given a little more time to… I don’t know, talk about what Joni and Laser get up to outside the home? I’ll give them the brief bit of rounding out of Paul’s character near the end, but that’s about it. And you know what? It was far too little too late anyway.

This film really annoyed me. I mean, I can accept the good performances from Bening and Moore. They are consummate prefessionals and they do create the one thing that I liked about the film.

Yes, there was one thing I liked about it…

…I liked that you got to see a gay family portrayed as just a normal family. They don’t make an issue about them having two moms. It’s not the elephant in the room or anything like that. It was refreshing to see a normalisation of the portrayal of gay relationships on screen. You could say that it provides a motivation for the “characters” (using the term loosely) but searching for your father is not the enclave of kids of lesbian parents so there’s no reason to pick that out.

Aside from the performances and that one thing though, I thought the film was pretty poor. I absolutely do not understand how it’s getting such good reviews. The only reason I can recommend for anyone to go see it is if you’re just really into the Oscars and you like to catch all the contenders so you can make informed predictions. For that reason alone I’m glad I saw it but if you’re not into that then don’t bother.


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