‘The Kids Are All Right’ Film Review by Sam Newton

We have invited Citizens’ Eye reporters to review some of the films we are showing/ have shown at Phoenix Square  http://www.citizenseye.org/. Feel free to let us know what you thought of the film by commenting on the post.

Much of the critical praise lauded upon The Kids Are All Right has been for director Lisa Cholodenko ‘overcoming’ the novelty of her film’s unconventional family unit. For those who aren’t familiar with the premise, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a lesbian couple whose teenage children seek out their sperm-donor father, Mark Ruffalo, and bring him into the family. The thing is Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg seem so naturally unconcerned about this ‘obstacle’ that congratulation on its being overcome seems thoroughly superfluous.

Rather the film’s strength is the deft sophistication with which Cholodenko explores human relationships and sexuality across gender constraints. If anything The Kids Are Alright exposes the often over-simplistic and complacent attitudes toward sex and sexuality that still pervade too many Hollywood movies. Cholodenko hasn’t overcome an obstacle with The Kids Are All Right, she’s thrown down a gauntlet.

Cholodenko observes human nature with a profound understanding of its complexity and contradictions but most of all a razor-sharp eye for our comic absurdity. Rarely is a script as astute, honest and funny as The Kids Are All Right and rarely are we treated with such intelligence.

The other godsend for the film is its cast. The fights over who deserves the Oscar nomination: Bening or Moore, will be fiercely fought among fans, both turning-in incredible performances. Bening plays the proud, cynical, controlling ‘Mom’ whose loss of control over the father’s arrival spirals her into jealousy, frustration and borderline alcoholism as she further loses control over her own affections to defensive hard-headedness, while Moore’s suffocated idealist battles her lust for lost love, appreciation and vitality. As the pundits have said, this could be any long-term relationship, but where Bening and Moore excel is in capturing the floundering intimacy beneath that family-strife with a genuine compassion. It’s their chemistry that makes this film: for all the strains and frustrations jeopardising the relationship you feel, unspoken, the fast foundation on which it was built. Seeing Bening wrestle her defences or Moore choking on guilt, captures that universal conflict between love and pain even in the most mundane of spats.

Yet for all the turbulent emotions at the film’s heart The Kids Are All Right is very funny. Perhaps Cholodenko’s greatest achievement is pitching that perfect balance that somehow keeps the film feeling almost breezy while utterly engrossing. Partially this is down to her keen eye for comedy – no awkward moment is left un-milked. It is excruciatingly aware of our hypocritical and defensive behaviours and glows in bearing them for us to see. The drama propels her comedy; simmering beneath the film’s surface as passive aggressive tensions between Moore and Bening heighten – We’re all feeling a little anxious and a little amused.

This is where Mark Ruffalo’s performance truly brings the film alive and it’s a real shame that it is destined to be overlooked. His turn as the laid-back, self-assured machismo-bomb provides us with a catalyst for the action but also with a fellow observer. His devil-may-care attitude, impulsive dynamism and cocksure nature are a powerfully seductive force not only on the family but also on us, and what’s more he’s as curious to witness his impact as we are. It’s a compellingly boyish irresponsibility that Cholodenko is as mesmerised by and understanding of as she is critical and ultimately pitying, but the film always reserves its judgement.

Cholodenko knows life and love is complicated, more so than the typical black and white divisions of gender and sexuality allow, and often more difficult because of them. But The Kids Are All Right isn’t a film that’s concerned with lesbianism or the folly of boyish-manhood but with family, responsibility and sexuality and treats those subjects with the comedic befuddlement they genuinely inspire.

The Kids Are All Right is screening at Phoenix Square until November 25th.

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