…but the adults are screwed up.
The Kids Are All Right is a decidedly small movie. It’s one of
those slice-of-life films that try to emulate real life, with
characters and scenarios that could easily be going on right now in any
suburb, yet the characters are so well-written and superbly acted that
spending time with them is a pleasure.
Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a married lesbian couple, each
with one child borne of the same anonymous sperm donor. Mia Wasikowska
plays the daughter, named Joni, and Josh Hutcherson plays her (half)
brother, inexplicably named Laser. The story takes place at some point
between Joni’s 18th birthday and the day she moves out to college. But
first, Laser — who’s still only 15 — talks her into calling the cryo
clinic to get in contact with the donor who unknowingly sired them.
Thus, we meet Paul, played by the ever-reliable Mark Ruffalo.
Basically put, the status quo is shaking up for everyone in this
movie. Joni is starting out as a young adult and a college student.
Laser is in the throes of teenage life, caught between an overbearing
family and a scummy best friend. Paul is trying to fit into the lives of
the kids and extended family he never knew he had. Nic is the
overprotective Mama Grizzly whose perfect little life is shaken by
Paul’s arrival and by Joni’s newly-independent status. And Jules…
well, I think I’ll keep her little crisis to myself.
The long and short of it is that individually and in every
combination, this ensemble works. It’s amazing. Bening perfectly plays a
mother who doesn’t know how domineering she is, just because of how
blinded she is by her love of family. Jules, meanwhile, works
wonderfully as her opposite and it’s charming to see the two of them
complain about leaving hair in the sink and what have you. They have
their petty grievances and they sure as hell have problems, but these
two women very clearly love each other. The relationship felt very
authentic and unforced to me, and I’ve got more lesbian friends than any
straight man should.
As for the eponymous kids, Wasikowska and Hutcherson both do
wonderfully. Wasikowska in particular is much more vivid and charming
here than she ever was under Tim Burton, though she’s still looking
kinda pale. Hutcherson, meanwhile, makes a sympathetic teenager out of a
kid who snorts coke in the first two minutes. Laser does some dumb
things due to peer pressure, but he’s generally a decent kid. Together,
the two are great to watch. Their sibling interplay is always very
authentic and their relationship with Nic and Jules has so many little
touches (referring to the pair as “Moms,” for example) that add a lot of
Then we have Paul, the fifth wheel. When we first meet Paul, he’s…
well, maybe “douche” is too strong a word. Still, the guy’s an egotist,
he’s a horndog and he’s clearly not the smartest man alive. We never see
him do any illegal substances in the movie, but I wouldn’t be at all
surprised if Paul had some marijuana and/or LSD in his past. All the
same, he’s not a bad person and he really does try to do right by Joni
and Laser when he learns of their existence. They quite visibly change
him, which does a lot to make Paul sympathetic. Major kudos to Mark
Ruffalo for crafting a thoroughly likable man who’s right on the edge of
being a prick without ever completely going over.
Something else that deserves mention is the screenplay and direction.
The dialogue is absolutely perfect in its writing and delivery. Not
only does the script make every character three-dimensional, but it also
provides a ton of humor. By the nature of its story, the film is loaded
with all manner of awkward situations and sexual predicaments, every
one of which provides a laugh. Naturally, there are a few jokes
regarding Nic and Jules’ sexuality, but it’s not necessarily “gay humor”
per se. Those jokes mostly revolve around things like accidentally
playing a porn tape too loud, giving Laser “the big talk,” petty griping
during sex, that sort of thing. It’s very tastefully done, actually.
I have to admit, I had a lot of fun watching this movie. Sure, it
wasn’t exactly a high concept or must-see cinema, but the direction was
solid, the screenplay was great and the acting was amazing across the
board. I was perfectly ready to give this a recommendation… until the
film imploded before my eyes in its last five minutes.
First and foremost, the movie’s final treatment of Paul is
spectacularly inexcusable. Yes, he screwed up pretty badly and he was
rather stupid about handling it. Still, it’s plain for everyone to see
that he’s apologetic and repentant about the whole thing. He literally
begs forgiveness from this family, but they instead decide to shut him
out entirely with little to no hope of ever reconciling. We spend the
entire movie growing attached to this character and watching him develop
in reaction to the core family (he’s the catalyst of the whole movie,
for Christ’s sake!), and the movie kicks him to the curb like some
two-bit romcom villain. What the fuck?!
Second — and perhaps even worse — is the very last sequence of the
movie. I’ve been turning it over in my head and aside from a few minor
details, I can’t see how it would have played any differently if the
movie had never happened. There is absolutely nothing between the first
scene and the last that affects how the final sequence plays out. Thus,
it gives the impression that the entire movie was completely pointless.
To be fair, it could be argued that the final scene shows triumph in the
face of adversity — that this family will stay together in spite of
all the problems they went through over the movie. The problem is that
this implies that Paul was a completely negative influence on the family
and that’s just something I can’t abide. I don’t know what it says
about me that I’m sticking up for Paul so much, but there we are.
The Kids Are All Right is a very frustrating film for me. My
enjoyment of the film in its first hundred minutes is matched only by my
hatred of its final six. To that end, I will offer this unorthodox bit
of advice: Go see the movie, and right after Jules is done giving her
big speech to the family, leave. Walk out of the movie and make up your