I’m happy to laud The Kids Are All Right (2010) for its attempt to chew up and spit out the ‘novelty,’ or ‘otherness’ of a well-adjusted, happy family run by thoughtful and caring same-sex parents. Bill Cosby actively started this impulse with his late-70’s films ‘Uptown Saturday Night,’ Let’s Do It Again,’ and ‘A Piece of the Action,’ but his idea really didn’t settle in to the fabric of America Overall until ‘The Cosby Show.’ That is, the idea that people of ethnicity or color are just people; everyone’s just like everyone else – same families, same careers, same relationship issues, same worries over money and status. It didn’t gloss over obvious cultural issues, but the characters weren’t defined by them, either. American audiences – the American audience – didn’t think of ‘Cosby’ as a ‘Black’ show – they just thought it was a funny, smart and universal TV show about an average middle-class family.
‘The Kids Are All Right’ works with that same non-pandering, un-coded M.O. The parents fuss over their careers, aging, habits that endear themselves to each other, habits that they want to punch each other in the face over, and how they keep their good relationship secure; when to trust each other, or stay out of each others’ way. The kids are smart and perceptive, but they’re rebellious, too, and sometimes pick friends that are beneath them, and sometimes it’s time for them to leave the nest and forge ahead on their own.
The overall context that this film represents is admirable, and I hope many writers and filmmakers follow its lead into the further production of like-minded shows and films. Unfortunately, that concludes the part of my critique that has anything nice to say about this film. Because, in all other respects, director and writer Lisa Cholodenko (and her co-writer Stuart Blumberg) have written a shallow, facile, passive-aggressive soap-opera LifetimeTV movie that, without the ‘novelty’ they seemingly want to render irrelevant, would be laughed out of the screening room for its clichés and vapid slickness.
The kids meet their sperm-donor father, and That Complicates Things. One spouse, in a short-term spasm of self-indulgence, steps out on their partner, and That Complicates Things. The kids are starting to explore the safe and the dangerous about their friendships and/or sex lives, and That Complicates Things. And it all culminates in one of the parents professing “I’m sorry, but Marriage Is Hard.” No shit.
Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo are superb actors; they make what they can of this twaddle, and elevate it far beyond where it would have gone in lesser hands. But, really, most of what they’re asked to do could have been just as capably handled by Lisa Hartman or Joanna Kerns or Josh Duhamel. It’s great to see true pros like Bening, Moore and Ruffalo at work, but they can’t make a bad script better, despite the depth and intelligence they bring to it. And it won’t be long to wait before the radiant Mia Wasikowska enters the same league – she’s as enormously talented, and squandered here, as her peers.
It really disappointed me that this film wasn’t better. I don’t expect Eric Rohmer every time, but it’s a shame when the filmmakers don’t even aspire to anything like that. Any two or three episodes of ‘Modern Family’ or ‘Friday Night Lights’ blow this lame shit out of the water. This is what the director of ‘High Art’ is passing off these days? My God, Lisa, snap out of it.
from Erich Kuerstein:
“In aiming for bourgeois family values, the modern same-gender parent household doesn’t mystically tap into a sacred source of wisdom and power — they just recreate the pressurized environment that made them so anxious to leave home, the pressure that’s destroyed the fabric of American society. More than anything, what Cholodenko’s oeuvre thus far reveals is that no grass looks greener to the queer eye than a boring, straight family’s lawn, and in the heart of every gay free spirit is a repressed neo-conservative trying to get out, and whether there’s a vice versa or not, even she can’t say. Either way, no matter how much sun-dappling and rock music you add, it’s not all right.”