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Suzanne Tenner/Focus Features

Not all right

Movies | The Kids Are All Right is a heavy-handed and dishonest portrayal of an unconventional family

Issue: "Warrior class," Aug. 28, 2010

A while back I complained about the heavy-handedness of Christian films that portray unrealistic people and present overly simplistic resolutions to problems. Though it features several impressive performances, The Kids Are All Right does the same thing with a worldview that is well outside biblical standards for sexuality, marriage, and family. And much like Christian reviewers praising choir-preaching movies, nearly every major news outlet across the country is hailing Kids as authentic and brilliant despite its weak character development and near-suffocating moralizing.

Lesbian couple Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) find their family harmony upturned when their teenage kids Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) decide to seek out their biological father. Laid-back, organic restaurateur Paul (Mark Ruffalo) is at first alarmed to discover that his sperm donation 20 years earlier resulted in children, but once he meets Joni and Laser, he decides he wants to become a part of their lives.

Kids is being billed as a warm-hearted drama about an unconventional family, but its apparent aim to lull traditional-minded viewers into sympathizing with the "momses" is undercut by scenes featuring gay male pornography along with explicit straight and lesbian sex. Though an X rating would have been more appropriate than the R it carries, the content isn't necessarily gratuitous, at least not in the sense that it has no serious purpose. Indeed, its purpose is very serious-to suggest that those who feel offended or repulsed by these supposedly "normal expressions of human sexuality" must be repressed or juvenile in their attitudes on sex.

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The irony is that not one instant in these scenes betrays a hint of tenderness or emotional connection. Bodies collide and react, but none of it looks like love, and I couldn't help thinking it a sad commentary on the filmmakers if they think it does. However, if the movie fails to ape the profound spiritual intimacy possible in traditional marriage, it does a serviceable job mirroring its challenges.

You would think even a film making an argument for same-sex marriage could admit that there must be something different about the dynamic between lesbian parents. Instead the story never allows the suggestion that a family headed by two women might encounter issues not experienced in one headed by a husband and wife, and Nic and Jules each fill stereotypical, even corny, male and female roles.

Nic, the breadwinner, is a workaholic who decompresses from her stressful job by drinking too much. She snipes at Jules for spending too much money and demands impossibly high standards from her children. However, at her best moments, she acts as protector, chasing off with firmness those who seek to harm her household. Jules, the stay-at-home maternal one, is flighty and a bit overemotional. But her empathetic approach to Joni and Laser softens Nic's harsh edges. Make Nic a man and you have a couple that wouldn't be out of place in a '50s sitcom.

For a moment, it looks like writer/director Lisa Cholodenko will at least be truthful enough to acknowledge that the kids are missing something by not having a man in their lives. Laser displays a tinge of longing while watching a friend playfully roughhouse with his dad and Joni revels in hanging out with Paul. But these hints turn out to be red herrings. Only later do we discover that Laser's "normal" friend is really a psychopath who thinks it's fun to abuse animals. And Paul turns out to be an interloper whose fatherly presence threatens to destroy Joni's happiness.

We never find out what happens to Paul, because he is not the point. Neither is growth or self-realization on the parts of Nic and Jules, unless it's their realization that, despite their horrendous behavior toward one another, they are every bit as noble, nourishing, and natural as they thought they were. The Kids Are All Right is the height of self-congratulatory, agenda-driven filmmaking. As such, you can expect to hear from it come Oscar time.
Email Megan Basham

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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