2010 // USA // Lisa Cholodenko // August 11, 2010 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Tivoli Theater)
B - It's too much to assert that Nic (Annette Benning) and Jules' (Julianne Moore) lesbianism is incidental to the emotional vigor of The Kids Are All Right, given that sexual and gender anxiety undergird many of the story's conflicts, not to mention that the plot depends on it. However, writer-director Cholodenko uses the upheaval generated when Nice and Jules' teenaged kids seek out their biological father Paul (Mark Ruffalo) for the purposes of highlighting the universal qualities of middle-class, middle-aged families. The message seems to be, contra Anna Karenina (which the film alludes to), unhappy families all share the same gremlins: resentment, frustration, shame, jealousy, and emotional befuddlement. There's nothing especially cinematic about Cholodenko's approach here, aside from one long, devastating close-up of Benning during a moment of traumatic revelation. Fortunately, the nuanced performances carry the film, elevating dialogue that sometime strays into clumsy satire. It is Cholodenko's talent for finding the wry humor in the strangest places that is most endearing, particularly when it comes to human sexuality, which the film acknowledges is rarely explicable or neat. It's enough to make one forgive the faintly schematic character to the film's narrative arc, or its mean-spirited racial digs and hippie-bashing.