Tag Archives: Lisa Cholodenko

The Kids Are All Right: Postmodern Family Values

The Kids Are All Right, not to be confused with The Who’s, The Kids Are Alright from 1979, is an indie drama (that for some reason is labeled a comedy) directed by Lisa Cholodenko about the challenges faced by a same-sex married couple played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. When it comes to cultural values, this film is a strange blend of postmodern political correctness and conservatism. Yes, I’d say that in the end, the movie ends up arguing for an almost radically traditional idea of family values, albeit in a new form.

This film in some ways feels like a six person play. We have the couple, Nic (Benning) and Jules (Moore), the two children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson), who are actually half siblings and Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm donor who is the children’s natural father but whom they’ve never met. We are led to believe that everything has been fairly calm in this extremely contemporary Southern California household until Laser (talk about a contemporary name) gets it in his head that he wants to meet his biological father. Joni tracks him down, and things begin to get chaotic.

The film is essentially a series of dialogues between various pairs of the above characters. Some reviewers have praised the film for the matter-of-fact way that it treats gay marriage. To its credit, it doesn’t romanticize or idealize this type of relationship, as by the middle of the film the couple is on the brink of splitting up and neither is close to being perfect. Nic is portrayed as a controlling person with possibly alcoholic tendencies, while Jules is on the flaky and indecisive side.

What gives The Kids Are All Right [Blu-ray] its perversely conservative foundation is the way it portrays Paul, the literal odd man out. An unattached business owner in his late thirties, Paul typifies one ideal of the contemporary urban lifestyle. He has a casual relationship with one of his employees and seems content to live the archetypal laid back California way of life. His relationship with his newly found offspring starts off a bit awkward, but there is mutual affection between everyone and at first it looks like Paul is about to become a member of an unconventional extended family. Until, that is, things get complicated.

I won’t divulge any more specifics about the plot except to note that the movie is ultimately not contrasting the gay vs. straight lifestyle, but the casual/unattached vs the committed. We are reminded several times what a self-centered Paul must be -apparently because he’s single. The point seems to be that no matter how dysfunctional a committed relationship may be, it’s still the cherished ideal worth fighting for. Oddly enough, the fact that the film uses a gay couple to make this essentially 1950s era point allows it to do so in a way that it would otherwise take more criticism for.

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