Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Maggie 2010: Julianne Moore being quirky and hot, but definitely straight

#122. The Kids Are All Right

I was so excited by the premise of this film, the almost unfathomable Hollywood normalcy of its family-drama structure, that I had to restrain myself from seeing it right away. Yes, it is super-cool for a mainstream film to centre around a lesbian family with two adolescent children. Yes, it is super-cool that the ever-attractive Julianne Moore plays the spunky, wayward, gentler partner in the arrangement. And heck yes, it is super-cool that not one of the problems inflicted upon either "child" and parent lies outside the realm of mundane happenstance, thus avoiding the tedious problem of exceptionalism that usually mires queer representation in film.

But let's try to keep our pants on, shall we? (Even if Julianne Moore won't!) While The Kids Are All Right scores tremendous points for its even-handed approach to the failings and quirks of each character, and the script-writing allows for some rare insights into domestic life absent even from other family dramas, there are a couple hitches that keep it from being a perfect film.

The first is pretty straightforward: The film tries far too hard to emphasize "Look! They're lesbians!" in its opening scenes, with some awkward intimacy shots which, in stark contrast to the vitality and breadth of later heterosexual sex scenes, only further highlight the experience gap between queer characters and straight-identified actors.

(It's a similar problem to the one that afflicted Bound, but hey--a lot of people really like Jennifer Tilly, squeaky voice and all, so maybe I'm just picky.)

The second hitch is the teensiest-tiniest character plot-hole around an event that propagates one of the oldest family drama issues in the book. But to explain this, I suppose it would help to know the plot?

Right. So, fifteen-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson) asks his just-turned-eighteen-years-old sister Joni (Mia Wasikowska) to contact the sperm bank from whence half their DNA was first wrought. Both then set out, without telling either of their loving mums, to meet their biological father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo). When mums Jules (Julianne Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening) find out, both are uncertain about (and Nic is downright resistant to) the idea of further interactions with this man. Nonetheless, one by one the seemingly idyllic family is drawn into the Charms of Paul, and... well, you can guess where this is going.

Indeed, every predictable detail of the classic dramatic infidelity arc emerges in The Kids Are All Right--which is, again, awesome in its normalcy: absolutely nothing about what happens here is emphasized as different from what occurs in heterosexual relationships where one partner feels ignored or under-appreciated, and lacks the ability or desire to address these concerns head-on.

But what really tweaks me? What really doesn't follow naturally? Is the narrative creakiness and strange mental leaps driving the inevitable discovery sequence. To my mind, more insight into Nic's character was definitely needed to naturalize her suspicions regarding Jules' cheating. It's a small point, but in the midst of one of the most predictable sub-plots for this sub-genre, a key one.

For the most part, of course, I adore Lisa Cholodenko's directing of this film--in particular, the way all characters and their life perspectives are presented evenly and compassionately. I also thoroughly enjoyed her collaborative writing with Stuart Blumberg, as between the two of them they managed to keep Paul firmly secondary to the central family's narrative arc, instead of permitting the lone male's quest to supersede all others. And certainly, this is a film I will recommend to anyone who, for whatever blisteringly incomprehensible reason, still thinks family drama is entertaining.

But for all the accolades this film is currently receiving, it still has to be said: this is more or less your average dramedy, with average issues and averaged outcomes. And that's okay. In fact, to me, that's what truly makes The Kids Are All Right the achievement that it is.

No comments: