Film Club: ‘The Kids are All Right’
But the Parents Are in Crisis
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Host Maureen Cavanaugh discusses "The Kids Are All Right" with critics Beth Accomando, Scott Marks, and Anders Wright on the KPBS Film Club.
Filmmaker Lisa Cholodenko makes films about complicated relationships. Her latest film, "The Kids are All Right" (opening July 16 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas) looks to a lesbian couple whose two children decide to meet their sperm donor.
Listen to our discussion from the KPBS Film Club of the Air.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (host): Our last film, “The Kids Are All Right” is a comedy about a family as opposed to a family comedy. The family in question is composed of a married couple, Nic and Jules, and their two teenagers. 18-year-old Joni is about to leave for college but before she does, she and her brother track down the sperm donor their mothers used for both pregnancies. When the mothers see their son, Laser, played by Josh Hutcherson, with a strange man, they’re concerned.
(audio clip from the film “The Kids Are All Right”)
CAVANAUGH: The couple, played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. The sperm donor is charming, unthreatening Paul, played by Mark Ruffalo, who agrees to meet the family but his presence turns out to be anything but unthreatening. And, Anders, does this movie provide any insight into contemporary marriage and family?
ANDERS WRIGHT (film critic, City Beat): I don’t know if insight is the right word but, you know, the thing that I love about this movie is that it presents this middle-aged lesbian couple without any explanation at all. This is simply their lives, and that’s great. I mean, honestly, more movies should be like that. But at a certain point, I started to wonder whether or not we would all be talking about this movie if it was about a straight couple. If the – I don’t know if the movie itself is so extraordinary that it really offers much insight other than that, that, really, that it’s like it’s – it’s – it’s not coming out right.
BETH ACCOMANDO (film critic, KPBS): Well, it’s a well done film but it doesn’t really inspire a lot of excitement in terms of the filmmaking itself.
CAVANAUGH: Is it funny?
ACCOMANDO: It has moments of humor.
WRIGHT: It’s okay.
SCOTT MARKS (film critic, Emulsion Compulsion): Wasn’t there something you were talking to me about the other day that the whole idea that this revolves around a man as a sperm donor, didn’t you just say that you thought that this was completely wrong?
WRIGHT: Well, it is sort of true. I mean, it’s like it takes this family that we don’t usually see, this lesbian couple and their kids, and then it makes it all about the man who made it all possible, and that seemed a little odd to me. And, in fact, the way he ends up sort of so intertwined in their lives is, in some ways, almost offensive to some people, I thought, anyway.
ACCOMANDO: He also gets kind of removed.
WRIGHT: By the end, yeah. I mean, I don’t know. It’s – it’s just one of those things where I – I was excited to see it and I watched it and it was like, oh, that’s what it is? That’s what it’s about? I don’t – I – Yeah.
MARKS: This is a Lifetime cable movie, come on, that got a lot of big name stars and was released theatrically.
WRIGHT: And is it – but it – Did it get all that because it is about sort of, you know, one of the first sort of big movies about just a lesbian couple?
ACCOMANDO: But I think it doesn’t make a big issue about being about them.
WRIGHT: No, and that’s what I think. And that’s actually what I…
ACCOMANDO: And I think that’s what’s nice.
WRIGHT: …really like about it as well.
CAVANAUGH: So about the performances, does it help to raise the level of the movie from a Lifetime cable special, Scott.
MARKS: You know, I – Annette Bening, in this role in particular, makes me aware every second of the way that I’m watching an actress act. Every tick, every mannerism, every movement is so calculated that it’s almost suffocating, especially when you have Mark Ruffalo, who is this incredibly naturalistic performer and I think the same thing can be said of Julianne Moore, although, God, would somebody give her a script where she could stay clothed? I mean, this poor woman, every time she makes movies, she has to get naked. This poor woman. So, I mean, to me, this is just your standard Lifetime melodrama. I don’t – It’s a great premise. I like the premise, looking for the sperm donor and – Are we not allowed to talk about…?
WRIGHT: Well, what if…
WRIGHT: But what – I mean, I guess here’s the thing, is that would it be such a big deal, let’s say it was a straight couple who had adopted. Would…
MARKS: They never would’ve made this movie.
CAVANAUGH: So, in other words, in not making a big deal about the fact that this is a lesbian couple at the center of the movie, you feel that it’s all about the fact that it’s a lesbian couple at the center of the movie because it wouldn’t have been made and wouldn’t have been getting the buzz that it’s been getting if it wasn’t for that.
WRIGHT: Kind of, yeah. I mean, you know, you’ve got Julianne Moore and Annette Bening playing partners and that’s great but the movie itself isn’t so great that it elevates it beyond that.
CAVANAUGH: And I’m also wondering, I’ve been seeing some commercials for this film and we’re talking about “The Kids Are All Right.” And it seem – they seem to be marketing it as a, you know, sort of a laugh-a-minute, warm family comedy. Isn’t there a darker element to it? Beth?
ACCOMANDO: Well, it’s more of a drama with comedic moments.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, no…
CAVANAUGH: A dramedy…
ACCOMANDO: I hate to use that word but, yeah. I mean, and, I mean, it’s the same way I felt about “Wild Grass,” I mean, to call it a comedy is, I don’t know, it kind of reduces it in some way for that film and this one I just don’t think it’s – I mean, I don’t think it’s really set out to be a comedy. I think she wants to do something that’s more kind of a slice of life so it has the drama and it has the comedy. Like I said, I mean, it’s well done. I think the actors are good, although Annette Bening’s character is very similar to what she did in “Mother and Child.” And I think the director let her be a little too shrill in this one just like in that one. I mean, you don’t – you kind of don’t understand the relationship because she does seem so…
WRIGHT: Up. Tight.
ACCOMANDO: Yeah, yeah. I mean, to the point at which you don’t understand their relationship or how they could’ve ever come together.
WRIGHT: And Julianne Moore seems kind of flaky in a way where you’re like, really? That’s like a little too flaky to be real.
MARKS: And if you’re going to pull this off, you better do it with a tremendous degree of logic. He donated sperm in 1993, hasn’t had any contact with the hospital or the kids, and 17, 18 years later they just happen to have his cell phone number? Huh? How did this happen? They kind of play fast and loose.
CAVANAUGH: That’s a long contract.
MARKS: That’s a – yeah, that’s a very long contract. A lot of minutes, yeah.
MARKS: So, I don’t know, I just think that this is – this is a TV movie that somehow made it onto the big screen.
CAVANAUGH: Well, “The Kids Are All Right” opens at Hillcrest Cinemas on Friday.
Companion viewing: "Mother and Child," "La Cage Aux Folles," "Laurel Canyon"
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