The Kids Are All Right

Reviewed by John Stakes

The club’s opener to the spring season last Sunday was the 2010 critically acclaimed American domestic chamber piece The Kids Are All Right, directed and co-written by Lisa Cholodenko. And what a hugely entertaining film it proved to be.

The film’s title would deter many an ardent filmgoer, conjuring up images of cutesy precocious middle-class American children getting up to all kinds of not so interesting pranks and winning over their harassed parents. But what we have here is an adult movie about family relationships and values held together by an intelligently smart script and natural ensemble acting of the highest calibre.

Lisa Cholodenko is no stranger to the situation she puts her leading ladies in, having in 2006 halted the film’s progress from its 2004 start to give birth following artificial insemination from an anonymous sperm donor. In her film, completed in 2009, Nic and Jules have each given birth to a child following artificial insemination from the same sperm donor Paul whose identity has remained undisclosed to date. Nic is Joni’s mother and Jules is Laser’s mother. The mothers are unmarried lesbian partners but in the terms of the family drama now to be played out might just as well have been a typical heterosexual middle-aged married couple.

Laser, being the only male in the household, longs to meet his biological father but because he is only 15 and does not wish to let his two “moms” know in advance, arrangements have to be made by his elder half-sister now 18 who contacts the sperm bank authorities. Paul, now approaching middle-age himself and leading a somewhat bohemian lifestyle as an organic restaurateur with no family ties or commitments, gets the shock call of his life from the agency, and, perhaps without thinking too much of the consequences, immediately gives consent to the removal of his anonymity and a meeting with his children is arranged.

Not surprisingly all manner of complications ensue which test the relationship between Nic and Jules and their sense of values to the limit. What was so refreshing was the absence of any mawkish sentimentality as these events were played out. The acting skills of Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and the rest of the cast delivered thoroughly natural performances which enabled the large capacity Alhambra audience to identify with the issues raised and the plight of everyone
concerned. Paul, having warmed to the idea of a belated family life to which his only significant contribution had been his sperm, is ultimately dispatched by Nic with the line “go and get a family of your own”, and we are left in no doubt that the family will be able to recover from Paul’s amiable but feckless intervention.

Particularly satisfying was Cholodenko’s sparky dialogue balanced by nuanced scene development, pacing and editing. The sex scenes were short, candid, natural and spontaneous which captured the thinking (and sometimes the lack of it) behind every decision to engage in this way. There was a complete absence of the packaged slickness usually found in US domestic drama-comedies, and the two female leads made no attempt to disguise their ages and the ageing process. Both children presented as normal teenagers trying to come to terms with their own development and every scene was a natural consequence of the previous one so there was no element of artificiality in either character or story development.

Cholodenko’s film cost a mere $4 million to make and the main shooting took up but 23 days. It closed the 2010 Sydney Film Festival and opened the Los Angeles Festival. It went on general release in October 2010 and is clearly destined to make a huge profit for its backers. The film confirms Cholodenko’s status as a leading independent film maker and enabled the club’s spring season to get off to a flying and hugely enjoyable start.