It’s funny how the comedy The Kids Are All Right comes at a time when there’s a lot of bad news about what happens to sperm bank children when they grow up. Just as ironic is that there’s a T-Shirt out now that says “My daddy’s name is Donor!” The movie however offers an alternative look at a pair of sperm bank kids that turned out all right, while the adults…
The movie starts with what appears to be an orderly family unit that differs from convention: a married lesbian couple who both had a child from the same sperm donor. While the family is unconventional, it functions as well as your typical family unit. Nic and Jules are in love with each other despite being opposites: Nic being the orderly one while Jules is the laid back one. Their children are well grounded: daughter Joni is smart and bound for a top college and son Laser is an anti-social type who’s smart enough not to pull punches and leave a friend gone bad.
Laser is eager to find out who his father is and relies on Joni, to help because she’s 18 and he’s 15. They first make phone contact with the father, Paul, an organic restaurant owner. Joni’s thrilled to meet him and Paul is thrilled to learn of his children. The children want to keep this a secret from their parents but they find out from Laser.
They invite Paul to a dinner where Jules reveals her desire to start a landscaping business. Paul gives Jules an opportunity to landscape his garden despite Nic’s discomfort. Jules loves how Paul gives the appreciation for her work that Nic never really gave and impulsively kisses him, leading on to an affair. Meanwhile the children are spending more time with Paul to the displeasure of Nic and even doing things Nic forbids, like Joni riding on a motorcycle. Nic is unhappy with Paul’s lax attitude towards her discipline. After a heated argument with Jules, they decide to have a dinner at Paul’s house. Things appear to ease up between Paul and Nic until she notices Jules’ hair in his bed and bathtub. At home Nic admits to the affair and the family tension grows, right before Joni is to go to college. Paul later offers Jules to move in with him which Jules turns down. Jules confesses to the family about why she gave into the affair and begs forgiveness. Nic angrily confronts Paul with all the damage he’s done and that he doesn’t deserve to be a part of the family. The movie ends with the family with Paul gone taking Joni to her new university. As they drive off, Laser suggests that the two don’t break up because they’re ‘too old’. They then hold hands.
Despite the specific types of people characterized, the movie itself did not appear to try to represent any particular types of people. Nic and Jules aren’t basically saying that lesbian couples watch gay porn and have affairs with men. We should remember not all lesbians are alike. Nic and Jules only represent Nic and Jules. Paul isn’t intended to portray sperm donor fathers as irresponsible or best kept completely out of the family. I’m sure there are many donor fathers that live responsible lives. Paul is Paul. In fact director/writer Lisa Cholodenko herself is a lesbian who has mothered a child via donation and she’s interested in meeting the father, even though laws protect the identity until the child turns 18.
The top theme is primarily about the family unit functioning. Nic and Jules have a family unit that some would call unorthodox or unconventional and some could even disapprove of, but it’s theirs the way they want it. They put years into making their family unit and they want it kept that way. They go through the same triumphs and the same struggles conventional families go through. I believe the message was specifically whether the couple is gay or straight, whether the children are theirs naturally or otherwise, whether one has been a family member or years or just suddenly finds themselves in it, each member has to know their role and function within that role and only within that role for the family unit to function. If they don’t function 100% or go out of bounds, they will fail big time and the family could fall with them. Paul could have been the father the kids never knew or a proper family unit but he blew it by interloping with the adults and almost wrecking the home.
Another surprising thing is that for the first time in years, we have a critically renowned film that shows the potential harm and hurt of extramarital affairs. In past years, there have been many cases where movies have shown adultery as something that’s there, fine when kept secret, the nature of love, okay when you’re spouse is not yours to lose or a ‘reason’ why marriage doesn’t work. When I first saw the affair between Paul and Jules, I thought to myself “Not another film showing extramarital affairs as normal.” Finally it shows the hurt and harm it most likely causes, especially to long-established families.
It’s arguable who the better of the two actresses was: Annette playing the orderly one or Julianne playing the looser one. Both were very good at keeping the comedic feel of the movie as well as playing the more dramatic parts right. However I’ve seen better performances from both in stronger movies. Mark Ruffalo was an excellent scene stealer as the easy-going free spirit who just doesn’t know his boundaries. Mia Wasikowska was good as the daughter if not great and Josh Hutcherson did a fine job with a role that was limited. Lisa Cholodenko presented a unique story that was intriguing to watch. The script she co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg was clever and well-written, even though I felt the ending was cut short. Overall the movie had a lot of strength and some small but noticeable flaws, but it was a little film that went a long way. This film was a surprise hit at Sundance 2010 and went on to become this year’s surprise indie hit.
The Kids Are All Right may not have what it takes to deserve the Best Picture Oscar but it’s full of surprises. It may not be a movie for everyone but it’s a small film that goes above and beyond its expectations to entertain and even get people thinking.