Oscar Talk: The Kids Are All Right

E: Nic and Jules worry about their kids.  Is brilliant, long haired Joanie, literally the golden child, too serious?  Is Laser gay and not telling them?  He’s attached at the hip to skater boy Clay, who looks like a bad influence.  Are they lovers?  Naw.  Clay’s just lazy, risk-taking, and introducing their son to cocaine.

You can tell the family is a little crunchy just from the names; Joanie, after Joanie Mitchell, and Laser, after, well, a laser, presumably.  Nick’s a doctor, and Jules trained to be an architect, but she’s been having a little trouble, as they say, figuring out how to be her best actualized self.  Her most recent project – landscape design – is experiencing a few hiccups.  Nic’s supportive, but also a little, well, judgey.  And she really liked her wine.  Jules might be a bit over sensitive about her lack of actualized potential.  Still, they’re pretty happy people.  They have their little issues, but generally, they’re just gliding along, basking in the California sunshine.

And then Laser talks Joanie into finding their biological father.  Which is to say, sperm donor.  What, did I not mention that Nic and Jules are women?

When Jules and Nick picked a young college student out of a catalog, they loved his ambition and interests.  So when Joanie – on the sly – gets his name from the donor bank, a casual farmer and restauranteur isn’t exactly what their mothers expected them to find.  Joanie pretends interest in the local foods movement, and Laser is immediately drawn to Paul’s laid back attitude.  At first Paul is, not surprisingly, floored to find he has not only one but two children; soon enough, however, he’s beguiled not merely by his children but by the road not taken that they represent.  Maybe he’s ready to grow up.  Maybe they can grow together into a nontradition family.  Maybe this new thing is comfortable and exciting for everyone.

But then things get a little too exciting.

I’m trying, and failing, to think of a movie where the title was so prescriptive.  Though it feels like the story of the mothers, like the story of a family, the point is clear.  These parents have done a good job, and their kids – despite the troubles during the film – are going to be fine.  Will they continue a relationship with their biological Dad?  Laser figures out that Clay’s bad news on his own.  Joanie works out her crush with no intervention whatesoever.

And the journey is largely a pleasant one. I howled in the scene where the two mothers are forced to explain to their son why they have an illicit collection of gay male porn.  And then there’s the point when one apologizes to the other for not being her most actualized self.  It’s so deliciously California, with it’s local farming and drawling speech patterns; there was a point where Mark Ruffalo replied “no doubt!” to someone’s comment, and I could hear my Californian cousins saying it, clear as a bell. It was uncanny. The performances are lovely – of course Moore, Ruffalo and Bening excel in the lead roles, but Mia Wasikowska of Alice in Wonderland is a charming, ethereal presence as Joanie.  Josh Hutcherson manages to play apathetic without being a snooze, and I do really enjoy America’s Next Top Model alum Yaya DaCosta as Paul’s employee and casual partner Tanya; she was good in a small role in last year’s wonderful film The Messenger, too.  Who’d have thunk it?   I liked the gentle humor of this movie.  I liked the characters. It was really nicely peopled.

I’m not sure, really, why Annette Bening, in a subtle, naturalistic performance as Nic, has been receiving the lion’s share of attention for this nicely acted film; Julianne Moore, as Jules, is just as good.  And yet for all that, poor Annette; why is it you’re always up against a young phenom?  Lots of people get nominated for Oscar with no chance of winning, and in some ways that’s got to be nice.  Twice in her previous three nominations, Bening started out as the front runner and ended as the also ran, both times to Hilary Swank.  Wonderful as it may be for Bening that Swank’s 2010 offering, Conviction, underperformed despite good reviews, there’s still Natalie Portman as the Black Swan to steal Bening’s thunder.  The two roles are fascinatingly distinct; Portman’s work is Acting with a capital A, all bells and whistles including learning to dance well enough to portray a prima ballerina on screen, a pretty astounding feet.  Nic’s a far less fraught character, and last year’s best actor race (Colin Firth is quietly dying, Jeff Bridges is drunk and bombastic) shows us how that kind of show down usually goes.  Still, Bening can’t be completely without hope, which may or may not be a good thing.  I’d think the evening would be less stressful if you were certain you were going to lose.

I’m thrilled that Mark Ruffalo earned his first nomination for his work as donor Dad Paul.  His is my favorite performance in the film.  And yes, he’s certain to lose (most likely to Christian Bale in another Acting with a Capital A performance in The Fighter) but that’s okay.  It’s an honor to be nominated.  The film picked up two other nominations it’s sure to lose as well: Best Picture and Original Screenplay.  Still, those are really excellent rewards for a small movie about a lesbian family (not the most obvious of draws, especially when Oscar movies tend to be more male dominated).   In January, The Kids Are All Right won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical.  Despite the utter lack of credible competition, this is a nice reminder to audiences and Oscar voters alike that the film really is all right.

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12 comments on “Oscar Talk: The Kids Are All Right

  1. Crystal says:

    We watched this a few weeks ago and I found it comical and a nice movie. I wouldn’t call it outstanding, it didn’t blow me away or anything, however it did have some interesting parts that you pointed out. I really liked Mark Ruffalo and his character. I agree that Annette and Julianne did an equally good job in the movie – I don’t think Annette will win, nor will the movie – but it was a good one to see.

  2. Pam says:

    I’ve actually seen this one! E, it’s Joni, after Joni Mitchell… use your IMDB.com, my friend…or learn your folk icons. I think Annette gets more buzz than Julianne because she’s the suffering partner, JM has the fun. BUT, I don’t know where it gets best comedy from the Golden Globes. It’s a good movie, full of heart and good characters and emotion…but it’s not funny funny. it’s sweet funny with a few good scenes, like the moms explaining to the boy. Surprised it took you so long to see it considering you’re usually way up on your Oscar movies and this came out early…and I love me some Ruffalo, but he’s basically playing his laidback character from Lean on Me… older and scruffier and a tad wiser. I do think Mia W… kicks butt.

    • E says:

      Joni – oops. Oh well. I missed this in the summer; I just didn’t have my Oscar on yet. We rented it several weeks ago – I’m just getting around to writing up some of the movies now. (Next – Black Swan and The Town.)

      You’re wondering why it won the Golden Globe? Easy. Up against The Tourist, Red, Burlesque and Alice in Wonderland, what else could possibly have won?

      • Pam says:

        Alice in Wonderland has more laugh out loud humor. Oh, and the weird slutty friend – David Mamet’s daughter who had a spin on Mad Men. … Cindy hated Social Network as misogynist too, fyi. oh, BAFTAs were on tonight. assume I’ll see new post tomorrow…or get some sleep.

  3. Krizzzz says:

    YaYa is acting now? Cool. =)

    • E says:

      Yep, and she’s surprisingly good, considering, and the two things I’ve seen her in have been good movies. But then, she’s a Yalie, isn’t she, and perhaps that helps.

      • MMGF says:

        I didn’t see that ANTM season – er, sorry, cycle – so I didn’t know who she was. But I liked her a lot in that movie.

        • E says:

          Really? You’re the king of ANTM!

          Do you remember her from The Messenger? She was the pregnant girlfriend that they end up having to tell because the guy’s mother is out, and she figures it out…

          • MMGF says:

            Again – had NO idea that was her, nor did I remember her from that enough to realize she was the same woman in The Kids Are Alright.

            (And, true – Tyra(nt) Banks and ANTM is like a car wreck. I just can’t look away.

            • E says:

              I find she has a really distinctive voice. I didn’t realize who she was, only that I knew her, and low and behold, she was on ATNM one of the few seasons I followed. (I enjoy the reruns, but I can’t watch them during the day – I feel like they’d give my daughters bad ideas, lol.)

  4. […] Annette Bening, The Kids Are All Right […]

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