Movie poster courtesy of Alliance Films/Focus Features
When The Kids Are All Right was released in July, 2010, I was curious and excited about the movie because a) it was about a lesbian couple raising a family together and b) the film starred some A-list actors including Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo. Because well-made, main-stream films about alternative families are rare and because of the actors involved with the project, I felt sure the film would be spectacular. There was quite a bit of buzz about Annette Bening’s performance in particular.
The film would go on to be nominated for Academy Awards and won Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Actress for Benning. I was sure I would love the movie and couldn’t wait to see it.
Well, I’ve seen it and am disheartened to report I didn’t like it. I’ve been brooding a bit for a few days trying to pinpoint why I didn’t like it, because I felt so sure I would. The film is categorized as a comedy-drama, but I found little to laugh about in this film.
The film revolves around an upper-middle class lesbian couple and their children, one of who will be soon leaving for college. We see straight away that the family is successful, the children well-adjusted, and the marriage between the women strong. The film highlights how this family dynamic is affected when the daughter contacts the previously-anonymous “father” of the children: the man who contributed to the conception of both children by donating sperm years prior. In the story, both women conceived a child each from the same man’s donation.
The mothers are rattled by the betrayal of the children at contacting the man who contributed the sperm, “Why didn’t you tell us?” This initial family betrayal sets the stage for the rest of the story.
Annette Bening plays Nic, the professional-half of the lesbian couple who supports the family as an obstetrician. Nic is somewhat straight-laced and uptight. Julianne Moore plays Jules, the other mother, a freer spirit who struggles with Nic’s high expectations of her. The women’s relationship is challenged when Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, the sperm donor and therefore biological father of the children, is invited into the family fold at the request of the daughter played by Mia Wasikowska.
The film is meant to be a sympathetic portrayal of a “normal” family headed by a lesbian couple and the challenges they face as a family. For the most part, I think the film beautifully showcases the “normality” of an alternative family arrangement. However, I was somewhat put off by things I perceived as stereotypes about lesbian women; in particular, I was put off by the wardrobe choices for the Jules character and the depiction of lesbian sex between the women. Also, I was uncomfortable observing the evolution of difficult relationship between the son of the family and a trouble-prone neighborhood boy. Furthermore, I was uncomfortable watching one of the character’s indulge too heavily on alcohol.
The acting in this film is superb and Bening, as promised, more than delivers. However, I was much more impressed with Bening’s performance in Sam Mendes’ 1999 film, American Beauty. Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo are spot on, and I was impressed with the performance of Mia Wasikowska, an Australian actress that plays Joni, the daughter. Perhaps another lesbian stereotype that irritated me was that the mothers would name their daughter in honor of Joni Mitchell.
The script co-written by Stuart Blumberg and Lisa Cholodenko, who also directed. The story is well-written and tight, but I couldn’t help feel a wanting at the end, that the story wasn’t quite resolved satisfactorily.
And perhaps this is why I didn’t care for the film: the story wasn’t tied up nicely in a pretty package, all nicely resolved at the end. And perhaps the emotion in the film was a bit too raw and made me feel too uncomfortable; perhaps the reality of the film was a bit to gritty for my comfort-level; and perhaps the events facing the family a bit too close to home for me to enjoy.
However, I do recommend seeing this film because some of the most powerful films we ever see will be the ones that make us feel the most uncomfortable.