An unconventional family grows up.
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
For a film about family, The Kids Are All Right, Lisa Cholodenko’s new indie drama, twists the dynamics in ways both obvious and subtle to great effect. As a long-together lesbian couple, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have achieved a degree of domestic perfection that defies convention by being utterly conventional in its own way. They have each given birth to a beautiful child; Nic, the practical provider is the birth mother of Joni (Mia Wasikowska), a National Merit scholar on her way to college at the end of summer, while Jules mother hens over Laser (Josh Hutcherson), a sensitive athlete who is vaguely curious about his surrogate father.
Said sperm donor, the free-spirited Paul (Mark Ruffalo), is the father of both kids, and it falls to Joni, the older of the two, to make the first contact with him for Laser. It is that first connection though that illuminates the far more subtle dynamic breakdown that makes Cholodenko’s film something truly special because once Paul expands the bonds and relationships, we come to realize that this unconventional family lacks a meaningful adult presence.
Nic, Jules and Paul are chronologically grown-ups, but each of them wanders around in a comfortable state of arrested development. Nic, the most seemingly mature of the three, is the breadwinner of the nuclear family, but Bening presents the portrait of a character playacting through a role that doesn’t fit any easy social category. Nic, possessing a gender-signifying appellation, settles into being the paternal matriarch to such an extent that she becomes the fighter when the family unit is threatened. She wears the pants, but we catch glimpses of how ill-fitting the role is for her. Bening makes Nic the most compelling and complex character, mainly because we can recognize her immaturity and her efforts to mask it, which is more than we get from either Jules or Paul who are both allowed to act out a bit more freely.
Laser and Joni are the ones we are supposed to worry about the most; they are the children caught up in the social unconventionality of the decisions of the adults who spawned them. But what comes through most is not only that they are all kids in terms of how they react from a place that is more driven by thoughtless selfishness, but that as their actions cause harm to the various individual bonds that connect them – one to another and one to all – we see that they will all be all right as they learn from this situation.
Maturity is not a process that ends when one turns 18, graduates from college or is able to start or create a family and one day see that family reach adulthood. Maturation is life-long, and all of us will make it through.
The Kids Are All Right will be
shown at the Neon Movies.